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Polygamists' ranch appears to belong to Texas

Published February 7, 2014 8:54 am

FLDS • The 1,600-acre ranch could now go on the auction block.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Yearning for Zion Ranch, the place polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs once proclaimed as the place of refuge and salvation for his chosen people, appeared to fall into the hands of the state of Texas on Thursday.

Minutes before the courthouse in Eldorado, Texas, was to close for the day, a clerk there told The Tribune no one had filed an appeal challenging the state's seizure. Thursday was the deadline for an appeal.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had given no indication it was going to fight to keep the 1,600 acre ranch and compound where sect leader Jeffs and other men married and had sex with underage girls. Multiple court hearings on the matter occurred with no representatives of the FLDS in attendance.

It was unclear Thursday what would happen to the property next. Texas law provides for several means of selling the property, including a public auction. Any sale or transfer appears months away.

Even less clear: Who would want to buy a ranch, appraised in 2012 at $19.96 million, according to county tax rolls, complete with living quarters, barns, classrooms and a towering temple used to commit sex crimes in a remote part of West Texas?

In an email Thursday evening, Texas Attorney General spokeswoman Lauren Bean said: "We aren't going to speculate on what may happen."

The YFZ Ranch may be the most tangible example of what has happened to the FLDS during Jeffs' tenure as president and prophet. A Jeffs loyalist bought the property in 2003 for $700,000. Under Jeffs' direction, millions from FLDS-owned businesses and tithing were spent on construction and improvements. Jeffs handpicked which families from FLDS enclaves in Utah, Arizona and British Columbia were worthy to go to the ranch.

But a 91-page warrant the Texas attorney general filed in 2012 argued sect leaders purchased the ranch to commit crimes, which constitutes money laundering under Texas law and also makes the property subject to seizure laws as contraband.

The crimes were revealed after a massive police raid on the ranch in 2008. A dozen men, including Jeffs, were convicted.

Jeffs, 58, was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, and is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison. Ten other FLDS men were convicted of bigamy, underage marriage or sexual abuse charges. One man was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report child abuse.

It's unclear what the property is worth now.

Local pilot J.D. Doyle, who has been flying over the property for years, told Texas Monthly for an article published this week it appears about 40 people remain, compared to about 800 during the raid.

"There are no big vehicles left," Doyle told Texas Monthly. "They went from 15 or 20 cement trucks to two, and those are probably broken down."

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle