Evictions begin in Utah polygamous community

Associated Press/December 5, 2014

By Brady McCombs

Officials in southern Utah spent Friday serving eviction papers on the first of possibly dozens of homes in Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect.

The evictions went smoothly and without major confrontation — but it was painstakingly slow changing locks and clearing rooms at large homes built for multiple wives and dozens of children, said Jean Dickson, a Washington County constable who oversaw the evictions. By 4 p.m. they still had four homes left, she said.

"There are so many darn doors with all the wives," Dickson said. "They each have to have their own way in and out."

One house had 75 doors, she said. Most of the homes were empty or had just a few people there to monitor things, Dickson said.

"They knew this was coming," she said. "They were pretty cooperative."

The evictions were the first since Utah took control of a trust in 2005 due to allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs and other sect leaders. The trust, created by the fundamentalist Mormon sect in 1942, has more than 700 homes and properties valued at more than $100 million in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.

Utah state Judge Denise Lindberg ordered the evictions this summer, saying she was fed up with a free-rider problem in the community.

The residents are among dozens of families who have failed to pay $100-a-month occupancy fees for years, depriving the trust of more than $4 million.

Loyal followers of Jeffs have refused to pay, arguing they shouldn't have to give the state money for homes they built and maintained.

Lindberg hoped the evictions would send a message and prompt people to pay up. Val Oveson, a spokesman for officials appointed by the judge to oversee the trust, said it's too early to tell if that will happen.

Out of 26 homes in the first batch given initial notices in July, only 12 agreed to pay. Evictions of seven additional homes are expected within weeks. Next year, dozens more homes could face the same fate.

The evictions were served on houses, rather than people, due to uncertainty surrounding who lives in them, Oveson said.

"They move people around so frequently and so often that they could be in another home with another family," he said of Jeffs' group, known as The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream church and its 15 million members worldwide abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibit it.

Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting underage girls whom he considered wives. But he's reported to still lead the sect from prison.

The fact that the homes had been vacated and no women and children had to be removed — and no fights broke out — came as a relief for state officials.

"It is very good news for us," Oveson said. "We just hope the rest of them will go as smooth."

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