Former FLDS spokesman sues Warren Jeffs

The Salt Lake Tribune/February 9, 2012

The former spokesman for the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs says in a new lawsuit that sect leaders arranged a nighttime burglary that gutted his business after he was excommunicated for refusing to falsify sect records on Jeffs' marriages to underage girls.

Willie Jessop, a onetime Jeffs bodyguard and sect spokesman, is seeking more than $100 million in damages for business losses, repayment of money he loaned for sect legal expenses and compensation for abuse his family has suffered since leaving the group.

Filed Thursday in 5th District Court, the suit sheds light on Jessop's high-profile break with Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its consequences for both Jessop and his family.

The suit alleges Warren Jeffs, his brother Lyle Jeffs and high-ranking elder John Wayman arranged a break-in last April at Jessop's Hildale business, R&W Excavating. Several people broke in and stole computers, hard drives, court files and personal items, Jessop alleged.

"Records of job costing, site plans, scope of work descriptions, invoicing, receivables and payables were lost," the suit states. "Virtually all information relating to R&W's long-term and day-to-day operations was stolen, directly and foreseeably resulting in the shut-down and demise of R&W."

Prior to the raid, R&W had been pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, but the computer theft hamstrung the business, as did a mass resignation after sect leaders told his employees would be excommunicated from the FLDS church if they didn't quit, Jessop alleged.

The raid was organized to seize sensitive information about Warren Jeffs and the other leaders named in the suit, including court files, Jessop said. It was also allegedly meant as retaliation for Jessop's refusal to abandon his business and family after he was told he'd "lost priesthood," or FLDS membership.

The Washington County Sheriff's Officelast month executed a search warrant as part of its investigation of the alleged burglary, said county attorney Brock Belnap.

In the suit, Jessop says he was excommunicated from the FLDS because he refused to place a false letter in the sect's priesthood record, which is considered holy.

The letter was a response to early 2011 allegations that Warren Jeffs had married 12- and 13-year-old girls brought to Texas from a sect settlement in Canada. The evidence of the marriages was gathered in a massive 2008 raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. Jeffs was later convicted in Texas and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two other underage girls he took as wives.

When the evidence about the Canadian girls came to light in February 2011, Jeffs prepared a letter from his Texas jail cell saying senior church leaders — Merril Jessop and Wendell Nielsen, who were subsequently expelled from the church — had conspired against him with Canadian law enforcement. Willie Jessop was told to put the letter in the church records.

"Knowing that the information ... was false, Jessop had refused to place such information in the Church's records," the suit alleges. Meanwhile, Willie Jessop said he'd examined other evidence Rangers planned to present against Warren Jeffs, confirmed its authenticity for himself, and decided he couldn't support Warren Jeffs as his leader.

Jessop says his refusal to put the letter in the records and loss of faith in Jeffs led to a late-night meeting last February in which Lyle Jeffs, the leader who represents his brother Warren in Utah, informed Willie Jessop he'd lost priesthood.

When Willie Jessop told Lyle Jeffs he didn't believe that "revelation" had come from God, he says Lyle Jeffs threatened to falsely declare him an adulterer if he didn't accept the directive and leave his home, family and business behind.

Jessop again refused, and his family decided to stay with him. That decision resulted in his children's expulsion from FLDS schools and verbal harassment from members, including accusation of apostasy and "publicly stating that they have betrayed other church members, and claiming they will suffer eternal damnation," according to the suit, which also alleges Jessop said he and his business have also been put under 24-hour surveillance by guards and cameras.

The suit also names FLDS business NewEra Manufacturing and 25 John Does who have acted "in connection with the defendants."

The case was assigned to Judge G. Rand Beacham. No defense attorney has yet appeared in the case and calls to FLDS leaders were not immediately returned.

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