FLDS Church may be expanding in Texas

Deseret Morning News, Utah/May 11, 2007
By Ben Winslow

A member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church is breaking the silence of a closed society and reaching out to his new neighbors in a tiny town in the Bible Belt.

Samuel Fischer wrote a letter to a Texas newspaper explaining his decision to move a cabinetmaking business to the town of Lockney. He is also promising to hold a town meeting tonight to introduce himself.

"Yes I have a large family. I have twenty four children of which 13 are my own and I have adopted 11, although I don't distinguish between the two," he wrote in the letter published in Wednesday's Floyd County Hesperian-Beacon newspaper.

Fischer's letter follows weeks of rumor and speculation about the FLDS Church branching out to another Texas town. The FLDS Church has a temple site near the town of Eldorado.

Sam Brower, a private investigator for lawyers suing the FLDS Church, said it could be another sign of church-linked business interests spreading out to keep generating money.

"There's pressure on the church, the UEP and Warren (Jeffs) financially," he said Tuesday.

In 2005, a judge took control of the FLDS Church's financial arm, the United Effort Plan Trust. It controls nearly all the land in the polygamist enclaves in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and has assets estimated at more than $100 million.

Fischer has signed a contract to purchase a 176,000-square-foot industrial facility in Lockney. Community leaders said he has also been eyeing a labor camp in the area.

In his letter, Fischer said he was traveling through the Lockney area when he ran out of gas. He was impressed with the kindness of members of the community, who showed him around when he expressed interest in bringing his business to the Texas Panhandle town.

However, Fischer has generated some shock from a community that knows the FLDS only through news accounts of their controversial leader, Warren Jeffs.

"Multiple wives in Utah may be acceptable, but it's not here," Lockney Economic Development Corp. president Phil Cotham told the Deseret Morning News. "We're part of the Bible Belt and people are very serious about their faith around here."

The Hesperian-Beacon published a column last week detailing the recent troubles of the FLDS Church and the criminal charges against Jeffs.

"Christians in the community who believe they will be able to 'witness' to the FLDS are simply uninformed about the ways of the cult," editor Alice Gilroy wrote.

The column generated a response from Fischer. In fact, Fischer says he's willing to meet with members of the rural Texas community and take job applications tonight. Such a move is rare for a community that has avoided reporters and has kept work within the church.

"It's never happened before," Brower said.

Reached by a Deseret Morning News reporter on Tuesday night, Fischer refused any comment.

"I wish you all the best. Really, we've said what we need to say," he said.

In his letter, Fischer does not discuss his faith or Jeffs.

"There has been plenty of negative publicity regarding my beliefs, which I would hope the honest in heart can see through," he wrote. "America was built on the premise that we give each other the freedom of thought, religion and the pursuit of happiness that doesn't infringe on others."

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