South Dakota FLDS compound still growing

The Rapid City Journal/November 6, 2006
By Steve Miller

Although polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is in jail in Utah, a compound reportedly occupied by members of his sect continues to expand in remote country southwest of Pringle.

Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which practices polygamy, was captured Aug. 28 during a traffic stop outside Las Vegas. He faces charges in Utah and Arizona. Private investigators tracking Jeffs said they believed that the Pringle compound was among places he had hidden. But state and federal authorities said they could not confirm that.

The Salt Lake Tribune last March reported that members of the church had acquired the 100-acre property southwest of Pringle in the Red Canyon area. Since October 2003, the group has built several structures on the property.

More recently, United Land Management, a group tied to the FLDS, bought another 40 acres, owned by Kenneth and Marlene Boggs, adjacent to the compound. The compound bought 15 acres last March for $37,500 and on Oct. 13 paid $275,000 for 25 acres. The second piece of property includes a new 2,400-square-foot log home, according to documents at Custer County Courthouse.

Compound members also have begun work on another, larger lodge, according to Custer County equalization director Les Struble.

That building will total more than 14,000 square feet and contain 18 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms, according to documents filed at Custer County Planning Department.

Group members have been building one or two lodges a year on the fenced-off, gated compound, Struble said. He estimated that the existing lodges are about 3,000 square feet each.

“The existing ones are set up like a bed and breakfast,” he said. They have large kitchen and living rooms, plus separate bedrooms and bathrooms. The lodges vary in size and have five to 10 bedrooms per building.

“What they use them for, I don’t know,” Struble said. “That’s just speculation on anybody’s part.”

Struble has visited the compound to assess the property for tax purposes and saw only the men escorting him on the property and a few men either working on the buildings or tending the large gardens.

Although neighbors last spring reported seeing as many as 60 people, including women and children, on the compound, Struble said he had not seen women or children on his visits.

The property’s current assessed value is about

$1.5 million, including the Boggs property, Struble said. After the new lodge is finished, the total assessment likely will rise to between $2.5 million and $3 million.

The compound will have a tax bill next year of about $30,000. After the new lodge is finished, the tax bill will rise to an estimated $50,000 or $60,000 per year, Struble said.

Struble said the compound pays its taxes on time and has met every county rule and requirement.

He said that when most people get a building permit, they usually end up building a structure that’s slightly different from the plan. That isn’t the case with the church compound. “It’s amazing. I have not found anything that did not match their building plans to the inch,” Struble said. “Everything they said they’re going to do, they’ve done.”

Struble said he talks with only two or three men on his assessment visits. They give only their first names. The FLDS sect has its headquarters in the towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. The sect also has long had an enclave in British Columbia and, in recent years, has established outposts in Texas, Colorado and Nevada.

Controversy has swirled around the group after Jeffs and other leaders were charged with crimes and after lawsuits were filed charging misuse of church funds.

An attorney for a court-appointed Utah official assigned to oversee the church’s financial arm, the United Effort Plan, said money intended for the UEP might have been diverted to buy properties such as the Pringle compound.

Jeffrey Shields, attorney for Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed special fiduciary, has served Jeffs and several other former trustees of the UEP with a complaint alleging that they misappropriated property intended for the trust, according to a story by reporter Patrice St. Germain in The Spectrum newspaper in St. George, Utah.

But it will be difficult to prove that the properties near Pringle; Mancos, Colo.; and El Dorado, Texas, were bought with money intended for the trust, Shields told The Spectrum.

Jeffs remains in jail at Hurricane, Utah. He faces two felony charges of rape as an accomplice for his alleged role in arranging marriages between older men and underage girls, according to the Deseret Morning News in Utah.

He is also wanted in Arizona on charges of sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, both felonies.

Although polygamy is against South Dakota law, no one has filed a complaint about the members of the Pringle compound, according to Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler. “I’ve got to have some kind of complaint to go in there,” he said this week.

However, Wheeler said he hopes to establish communication with leaders at the compound, even if it’s minimal, in case of a fire or other emergency. “It’s something I’m going to be working on,” he said.

The sheriff said the state Division of Criminal Investigation had done most of the investigation of the compound.

The state attorney general’s office did not return a phone call regarding the compound.

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