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Willie Jessop arrested in Texas, days before expected windfall in Utah

Published May 17, 2014 9:01 pm

Detention comes just days before an expected windfall in Utah.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Willie Jessop, the former Warren Jeffs bodyguard who already has claimed his old prophet's compound, was arrested in Friday in Texas days before he is to receive property and water rights or cash in Utah.

Jessop said Texas Rangers arrested him on suspicion of burglary of a vehicle and misdemeanor assault. Jessop, in a phone interview Saturday, said he was handcuffed and held in custody for a couple hours before being released. The status of any charges was unclear Saturday.

The arrest stemmed from Jessop's effort to retrieve earth-moving equipment belonging to his excavation company. The equipment, Jessop says, has been kept on the YFZ Ranch that the state of Texas seized last month. The ranch had belonged to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

FLDS members have been allowed to remove personal property from the ranch. Jessop said a Texas judge earlier Friday had signed a restraining order to cease the property removal until a hearing could be held to discuss ownership issues.

After the judge signed the order, Jessop said, he found a semi-tractor towing one of his rock saws sitting at a gas station about 15 miles from the YFZ Ranch in West Texas. Jessop said he showed the order to the young FLDS man driving. Jessop and the driver agreed to wait for police to arrive to show them the order.

"There was never contact with anyone," Jessop said, "and never a dispute with the driver, and I never took nothing."

Texas Rangers arrived, including Nick Hanna, the Ranger who has led the investigation into the FLDS since the 2008 raid on the YFZ Ranch. Hanna ordered Jessop arrested, Jessop said.

Jessop on Saturday contended Rangers have a conflict of interest because they stand to receive a portion of the proceeds when the state auctions the YFZ Ranch.

"They look at me as a threat to slowing down the process," Jessop said.

Jessop said he was back in Utah on Saturday. The arrest aside, it stands to be a pretty beneficial month for Jessop.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office on Thursday will auction water rights belonging to Twin Cities Improvement Association. Twin Cities Improvement has been used over the years as a holding company for assets controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The Sheriff's Office is auctioning the water rights on the steps of the courthouse in St. George to pay a $30 million judgment Jessop won against FLDS leaders.

Jessop's attorney, Mark James, said his client will bid on the rights with credit from the judgment, or will accept the cash if someone else purchases the rights.

"I think he would be thrilled if anyone would show up and buy them," James said.

A listing with the Utah Division of Water Rights shows Twin City Improvement owns rights to Water Creek in Hildale. The rights amount to 53.8 acre-feet of water.

That's enough water for about 120 single-family houses, according to averages listed by the Division of Water Rights.

It's not clear what the rights are worth. Listings for water rights in Washington County have prices ranging from $1,800 to $28,000 per acre-foot. James said he doesn't know how the water is currently being used.

Also, Jessop is to buy 200 acres of farm ground and 9.4 acres in Hildale at steep discounts. He's to buy the farm land for $100 an acre. Jessop will pay $84,000 for the tract in Hildale, even though it is assessed at $94,000.

Bruce Wisan, the fiduciary for the United Effort Plan ­— the trust that holds much of the property in Hildale and adjoining Colorado City, Ariz. ­— said Friday he is selling Jessop the property because Jessop has assisted the trust.

Jessop also will be given the title to his home and adjoining barn lot whenever Wisan is permitted to subdivide Hildale, Wisan said.

Jessop, Wisan said, has helped the United Effort Plan regain thousands of acre-feet of water rights that were illegally transferred from it by FLDS followers. He said Jessop also helped defend the UEP from lawsuits and assisted the U.S. Department of Justice in its civil rights lawsuit against Hildale and Colorado City governments.

"I regard him as somebody that is helping the trust," Wisan said. "He is not an enemy of the trust."

Jessop was not always so cooperative with outsiders. He was a bodyguard for late FLDS President Rulon Jeffs, and for Jeffs' son and successor, Warren Jeffs. Jessop also acted as a spokesman for the group. He used his FLDS post to oppose Wisan in trying to manage the United Effort Plan until he split with Jeffs prior to Jeffs' 2012 conviction in Texas — on charges he sexually assaulted two girls he took as brides.

The judgment he is collecting came after FLDS leaders failed to respond to a lawsuit alleging they orchestrated a late-night break-in of Jessop's excavating business in Hildale.

Last year, Jessop applied $3.6 million of the judgment to seize the compound constructedin Hildale for imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

James said the water rights auction may be Jessop's last chance to collect on the judgment. He and Jessop have been unable to find more assets held by Twin Cities or FLDS leaders, including Jeffs.

"Assets in his name, you can't find," James said. "I think that community moves things around pretty regularly"

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle —

Need some water in Hildale?

P The auction will be 10 a.m. Thursday on the steps of the courthouse in St. George, 206 W. Tabernacle St.