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With $30M lawsuit won, FLDS critic now turns eye to collecting

Published July 31, 2012 11:46 pm

Polygamy • Former bodyguard of Warren Jeffs wins a $30M judgment against the sect's leader.
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A former spokesman turned sharp critic of the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs has won an approximately $30 million judgment against the imprisoned leader.

Willie Jessop, also a former Jeffs bodyguard, has now won default judgments against three sect leaders whom he sued for some $100 million in February, accusing them of orchestrating a break-in at his excavating business as retribution for turning against Jeffs.

But winning may have been the easy part.

"The problem that we have now is, where do we collect that money?" said his attorney, Mark James. Settlements often end with the defendant paying up after getting a letter from the court, he said. If the defendant is unwilling or unable to pay, property could be seized by a sheriff's office and auctioned off.

Things are a little different when the defendants are the secretive leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They've thus far ignored the suit, prompting a 5th District Court judge to grant Jessop the default judgment.

"Our belief is the leadership is moving assets around," James said Tuesday. In addition to the Warren Jeffs judgment entered July 26, Jessop has also won default judgments Jeffs' brother Lyle Jeffs, who has been considered a leader in the sect's border town home base of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah; and John Wayman, a top aide to Warren Jeffs thought to have succeeded Lyle Jeffs in leadership. They share legal responsibility for the $30 million judgment.

James' next move is an attempt to collect from Twin City Improvement Association, a company he said is worth a "number of millions" and is an "alter-ego" for the three men.

"We're going to need to establish there are certain entities out there that do have assets, do have value," that the trio have "treated as if they are their own," James said. Wayman is registered with the state of Utah as president and director at Twin City Improvement Association, according to state records.

Jessop alleged that sect leaders organized a nighttime break-in to gut the offices, from which he says his business hasn't recovered.

They also took copies of evidence used last year to convict Jeffs, 56, of sexually assaulting two underage girls he took as polygamous wives. Jeffs is now serving a life prison sentence in Texas.

If Jessop isn't able to collect from Twin City, James said there is property in Texas, the location of the Yearning for Zion Ranch that was raided by authorities in 2008, and in other states that they could pursue.

"We're not going to give up until we exhaust all possibilities for recovery," James said.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

The Polygamy Blog: http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/polygblog