FLDS Fails To Appeal Seizing of Infamous Compound

KUTV CBS News, Utah/February 7, 2014

By Ladd Egan

The State of Texas looks to be the new owner of imprisoned polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs' infamous Yearning for Zion Ranch.

The YFZ Ranch gained infamy in 2008 when it was raided by law enforcement as part of a child sex abuse investigation which led to successful prosecution of Jeffs and eight other men.

Even from behind prison bars, Jeffs is still said to lead followers of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

In November 2012, the Texas Attorney General's Office filed legal action to seize the sprawling compound, alleging that the FLDS purchased it with laundered money with the purpose of using the property to sexually abusing young girls.

"Under Texas law, law enforcement authorities can seek to seize property that was used to commit or facilitate certain criminal conduct," the attorney general’s office said at the time the seizure warrant was filed.

In early January 2014, Texas District Judge Barbara Walther issued a default judgment in favor of the attorney general's office after no one representing Jeffs or his church appeared in court. Jeffs and other trustees of the property were given 30 days to appeal the ruling.

The appeal deadline came Thursday, and the county clerk's office says no appeal was filed to stop the state from seizing the nearly 1,700 acre property. The ranch's current market value is nearly $34.5 million, according to the Schleicher County Appraisal District.

In her Final Judgment of Forfeiture, Judge Walther wrote that the State of Texas "is authorized to use, maintain, and dispose of said property in accordance with Texas Code of Criminal Procedure."

A local pilot who flies over the ranch frequently says he doubts residents inside the compound are aware of the court proceedings, especially given the fact that FLDS members recently paid over $450,000 in property taxes.

"They're clueless," said Schleicher County resident J.D Doyle. "They didn't know what was going on. Either that, or Warren told them to 'speak to them nothing.'"

Doyle estimates that fewer than 50 people currently live on YFZ Ranch. During its peak, over 800 people lived there. He says it appears to just be a "skeleton crew" and that activity inside the compound's walls has been at a minimum recently.

"All the heavy equipment has been moved," Doyle said. "There is very little movement and no children."

A journalist and author who has followed the FLDS for decades says the fact that the church appears to be abandoning the property should not be viewed as evidence that the sect is crumbling.

"I don't think they're out of money," Ed Kociela, author of the book "Plygs," said. "I don't think they're finished by any means. I think they are going to continue on as they always have."

As to why FLDS leaders and members didn't fight to keep the property, Kociela says there is usually a strategy behind everything Warren Jeffs does.

"Warren does not have a history of hiring dumb lawyers," he said. "I'm not buying that it was a mistake or confusion."

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