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Feds: Former FLDS spokesman can't have Warren Jeffs' Escalade

Published March 25, 2013 9:26 pm

Polygamy • Willie Jessop, once a follower, now seeking Jeffs' car, Hildale compound.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A former follower and spokesman for Warren Jeffs is trying to seize the imprisoned FLDS prophet's SUV, but the government won't turn it over.

Willie Jessop and his lawyers have served the U.S. Attorney's office in Utah with three garnishments. The garnishments aim to get the attorney's office to turn over Jeffs' Cadillac Escalade — which was seized when he was captured in 2006 — and other property, including cash, to Jessop.

Jessop hopes to take possession of the vehicle as partial payment of a settlement he won against the imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The lawsuit was filed in 2011 after Jessop alleged that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders orchestrated a late-night break-in of his business, R&W Excavating.

FLDS leaders never responded to the lawsuit, and in 2012, a judge awarded Jessop a $30 million settlement. He has since been trying to collect and, among other things, also hopes to get Warren Jeffs unused Hildale compound.

But the U.S. Attorney's office wants to hold onto the Escalade, claiming in court documents that it is evidence in a pending criminal case in which Jeffs is charged with one count of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

That case was filed in 2006 but has remained unchanged, with no new filings or motions, since July 2010.

Mark James, Jessop's attorney, pointed out Monday that Jeffs is now in prison with no chance of parole, meaning the 2006 indictment has little impact on him. James has asked members of the U.S. Attorney's office when they plan to dismiss the charge. They've told him they don't know, he said.

U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said Monday that the criminal case against Jeffs is still open. Rydalch's office is currently coordinating with other jurisdictions with pending criminal cases against Jeffs, but she did not say when there might be a development in her office's case.

The attorney's office has taken two steps to retain control over the Escalade: It moved the case from state court to federal court, and also filed a "motion to quash writs of garnishment." The motion claims that the government is immune to garnishment and asks the court to reject Jessop's attempts to take possession of the SUV.

James and Jessop are exploring the possibility of trying to move the case back to state court.

"My client is frustrated because he would like to work with the U.S. Attorney's office but, despite his efforts has been unsuccessful," James added.

However, James also said that he hopes for an amicable resolution with the U.S. Attorney's office.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jimmycdii