Neighbors fret over FLDS land

Rocky Mountain News/May 15, 2008

Neighbors in the scenic southern Colorado town of Westcliffe are fretting about property purchased there by a man connected to the leadership of the polygamous sect that was raided last month in Texas.

Custer County Assessor J.D. Henrich confirmed Thursday that Lee A. Steed, a senior official in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, bought a 5,800- square-foot house on 35 acres of land for $350,000 in 2006. He also bought another 85 acres last December for $428,900.

Steed last year also bought two homes in neighboring Fremont County, about 100 miles south of Denver.

Steed is a top aide to convicted FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, according to HateWatch, a nonprofit that bills itself as the organization "Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right."

The Southern Poverty Law Center put the FLDS on its hate group list in 2005 for beliefs that black people have been cursed by the devil and are an inferior race. FLDS has been practicing polygamy openly since 1930, 40 years after Mormon leaders renounced polygamy, a step required for Utah to be granted statehood. The Mormon church has no ties to the FLDS.

Last month, federal authorities raided an FLDS ranch in Eldorado, Texas, taking custody of 462 children to see how many may have been abused or forced to marry. The FLDS already has a presence in Colorado. In 2005, sect members purchased land outside Mancos, west of Durango, to build a retreat for Jeffs.

Squeezed between the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the west and the Wet Mountains to the east, Custer County has a population of about 3,900.

Kathleen Kerr, owner of the home next door to the house bought by Steed in Westcliffe, the Custer County seat, told HateWatch that ATVs patrol the property and that she hears occasional gunfire.

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