Texas moves to seize Warren Jeffs' polygamist ranch compound

A search and seizure warrant is taped to the locked entrance gate of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, outside of El Dorado, Texas.
AP Photo/San Angelo Standard-Times, Kimberley Meyer

(CBS/AP) AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas attorney general moved Wednesday to seize ownership of Warren Jeffs' ranch where the polygamist sect leader and his followers are accused of sexually assaulting dozens of children.

VIDEO: "48 Hours" takes a closer look at jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs

A judge will determine whether to grant the state control of the nearly 1,700-acre property owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints(FLDS). Tax records put the land's value at over $33 million.

In their seizure case, prosecutors allege that Warren financed the property through money laundering. The sect bought the land for about $1.1 million in 2003, according to an affidavit filed Wednesday.

Texas Rangers raided the ranch in April 2008 following a call to a domestic abuse hotline that turned out to be false, and took 439 children into state custody. Last year, Jeffs was convicted of sexually assaulting two minors whom he described as his spiritual wives. At trial, prosecutors presented DNA evidence to show he fathered a child with one of those girls, age 15.

Jeffs, 56, is serving a life prison term in Texas. He has continued to try to lead his roughly 10,000 followers from behind bars. The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

Rod Parker, a Nevada attorney for the FLDS, told the Salt Lake Tribune that it seemed the state's purpose was to take the land and sell it to the highest bidder, which would result in sect members living at the ranch likely being evicted.

"They're punishing the victims. These aren't the people who committed the crimes," Parker told the newspaper.

It's not known how many people still live at the secluded ranch about 200 miles west of San Antonio, but the seizure warrant does not require them to leave.

Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said the population at the ranch has "reduced quite a bit over the last several months" since Jeffs was convicted. Dolan said he believes only a small contingent of members are still there keeping the ranch working.

Doran said his deputies accompanied state investigators to deliver the warrant at the ranch. No one answered, so Doran said they taped the warrant to the ranch's front gate.

Strickland, the attorney general's spokesman, said it was too early to speculate about what the state would do with the property if given ownership. The group will have a chance to contest any seizure.

According to the state's affidavit, the ranch is controlled under the name the United Order of Texas, which is described in county filings as a "religious trust created to preserve and advance the religious doctrines and goals of the FLDS."

In the affidavit, prosecutors allege that sect members illegally structured financial transactions and that Jeffs personally toured the ranch before the land was purchased.

The Texas attorney general's office, however, has not formally charged any FLDS members with any financial crimes.

Complete coverage of Warren Jeffs on Crimesider


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