Filing targets Jeffs' property

Ex-FLDS member says he's entitled to part of seized items

Deseret Morning News/October 8, 2006
By Ben Winslow

An ex-member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church is hoping to collect on an old debt from captured polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

Lawyers for Shem Fischer filed papers in Nevada's federal court late Tuesday, trying to get involved in the fight over evidence the FBI seized when it arrested Jeffs during a traffic stop outside Las Vegas on Aug. 28. Inside the red Cadillac Escalade that Jeffs was riding in, FBI agents found thousands in cash, computers, cell phones, wigs, sunglasses, gift cards and even a Book of Mormon.

Fischer says some of that property belongs to him.

"We're just trying to collect on the judgment," Fischer's lawyer James Stewart told the Deseret Morning News on Wednesday.

In 2002, Fischer filed a religious discrimination lawsuit in Utah's federal court against Washington County-based Forestwood Co., the FLDS Church and Warren Jeffs.

Fischer claimed he was fired from his job as a sales representative for the cabinet-maker because he no longer believed some of the tenets of the FLDS Church. It came at about the same time that Jeffs handed down an edict telling FLDS faithful to cut off all ties with non-believers.

Fischer was fired and replaced by a faithful member, he said in the lawsuit.

"Fischer was told by Forestwood that unless he reformed his religious beliefs and ascribed to those FLDS religious beliefs held by certain other owners and/or operators of Forestwood, he would not be rehired," court documents stated.

In May 2006, Fischer won a default judgment against Jeffs and the FLDS Church for $338,411. Since then, he has been trying to collect.

Lawyers for the ex-FLDS member filed papers in Colorado's federal court, seeking to collect what was seized when Warren Jeffs' brother, Seth, was arrested on charges of harboring a fugitive. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.

Inside Seth Jeffs' SUV, police said they found $142,000 in cash, cell phones, credit cards and a donation jar with a label that said "Pennies for the Prophet."

Fischer isn't the only one with an interest in the seized property. Lawyers for the FLDS Church's United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust have asked the federal court to see what the FBI seized. In 2005, a Utah judge took control of the UEP amid allegations that Warren Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders were fleecing the $110 million financial arm.

Jeffs' lawyers have demanded the FBI hand over some of the seized property, claiming the documents, letters and ledgers inside constitute "sacred" communications between the FLDS leader and his followers.

Jeffs, 50, is scheduled to face a preliminary hearing Nov. 21 in St. George's 5th District Court on charges of rape as an accomplice. Jeffs is accused of forcing a teenage girl into a polygamous marriage with an older man. Washington County prosecutors have told the Deseret Morning News they are screening additional charges against Jeffs but have made no decision.

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