Flight Of The FLDS

Keloland Television, South Dakota/February 27, 2013

Pringle, South Dakota - The polygamist sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or FLDS, has had a compound 15 miles southwest of Pringle in the Black Hills for almost a decade. Some estimates say as many as 200 people live on the property. That number, however, could go much higher as the fundamentalist group comes under increased pressure in other parts of the country.

A few miles southwest of Pringle just off of Farmer Road, you'll find a guard tower that seems out of place. It's the most visible feature of the FLDS compound founded by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

"Nobody in Custer County likes it. We don't like that compound here. It's not that they're bad neighbors, it's that they're doing bad things," Custer County Chronicle publisher Charley Najacht said.

The sect, which broke away from the mainstream Mormon Church in the 1800s, still practices polygamy and arranged marriages with young girls. Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two young girls whom he described as his spiritual wives. Evidence presented during the trial showed Jeffs fathered a child with one of the girls, who was only 15-years-old.

"And he still rules the compound; he calls the shots even from prison, which is totally amazing," Najacht said.

Our repeated attempts to contact someone within the FLDS compound at Pringle have gone unanswered.

Najacht publishes a string of local newspapers, including the Custer County Chronicle. He has followed the FLDS story closely and believes sexual abuse is going on at all of the church's compounds, including the one near Pringle.

"We know it's happening and they know it's happening but we don't have any proof. We don't have anybody getting out and telling their story. That's what we need because the authorities really can't get in there. It's a fenced compound," Najacht said.

"It's like any other family or person or organization, you have to have probable cause to go in there to do something and we don't have any evidence of that happening," Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler said.

In late November, the Attorney General of Texas filed paperwork to seize the FLDS's largest and most infamous compound in that state, known as "Yearning For Zion." Authorities believe the ranch was purchased with money obtained illegally and that the ranch was used as a haven for sexually assaulting young girls.

"These are young girls that have no choice but to take older men as their husbands and these are teenage girls down to the age of 12," Najacht said.

If sect members are eventually evicted from the Texas compound, some are concerned that South Dakota could be their next stop.

"[It's] very possible, you know. It still depends on what happens in those communities. This one is definitely in the position to build on or make bigger. It's pretty secluded, it's fenced in and locked in, different than Hildale and Colorado City where you can drive through them and drive around," Wheeler said.

Wheeler says he tries to keep track of what's going on at the Pringle compound, but it's a task that was made more difficult when his former contact left the area.

"We have different people, first names that we deal with. I'm not even sure if they're living in that area but they contact people down there if we have an issue, so we can get it addressed," Wheeler said.

The sheriff's department estimates between 200 to 300 people are currently staying at the local compound. But with a slew of unfinished construction projects, some believe the property could support many more.

"I mean, there's been building going on all through the summer and all of a sudden it stops and there's nothing and the projects were never really completed either," Wheeler said.

"They're digging a huge foundation for something, now. There's speculation that it could be a temple, who knows? But it just keeps on going, it keeps on growing, and it's not stopping," Najacht said.

The construction and concerns about the group have led many in the area to put their homes on the market. And with possibility of even more sect members putting down roots in the Black Hills, Najacht says he wishes more could be done to stop it.

"It's pretty disgusting and there's nothing that anybody seems to be able to do about it," Najacht said.

Jeffs' most devoted followers consider him God's spokesman on Earth and a prophet. Texas authorities believe many of the people have already left the compound there, which means the flight to other settlements may have already begun.

Outside of South Dakota and Texas, the FLDS is known to have property in Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Idaho.

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