Former spokesman buys Warren Jeffs' compound, gets look inside walls
Hildale • After purchasing a compound built for Warren Jeffs Thursday morning, former FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop spent most of the afternoon working to get inside.
Jessop had a locksmith at the sprawling, Hildale property hours after the auction closed. Jessop expected the locksmith to be working late into the night to gain access to all the buildings soon, but just before 4 p.m. he invited Tribune journalists inside the walls for a sneak peak of the property.
During the brief tour, Jessop showed off a cavernous warehouse-like building that was formerly used by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a bishop's storehouse. The building was barren, but was clean and in generally good repair.
Outside in a parking lot, Jessop said the blinding white concrete used a special powder that cost $100 a yard. Thursday, the empty area included only a locksmith's van and scattered seed pods that gurgled as they blew in the wind.
"This is what happens when you allow a dictator to be a dictator," Jessop said, referring to Jeffs.
Jessop plans to be into all the buildings soon.
Jessop placed two winning bids during an auction outside the courthouse in St. George. Jessop's first bid was for $2.5 million and won him control of a warehouse and several neighboring homes in Hildale. The second winning bid, for $1.1 million, was for an adjacent school and grounds.
Both bids were communicated to sheriff's deputies before the auction began and Jessop did not speak during the event. The auction started at 10 a.m. just outside the main entrance of the St. George courthouse. It finished minutes later when there were no other bids for the property. The crowd included numerous members of the Hildale community, as well as media and police.
The auction was the result of judgment Jessop obtained against leaders of the FLDS. Jessop a former spokesman for the church who has since left it alleged that church leaders orchestrated a late-night break-in of his Hildale-based business, R&W Excavating. Jessop sued the church leaders, but they never responded to the lawsuit.
A judge ruled in Jessop's favor and awarded him a $30 million judgment. The auction was designed to begin paying off that judgment.
No money will change hands as a result of the auction. Instead, Jessop made a "credit bid," using the judgment to make an offer on the property.
Immediately after the auction, Jessop alleged FLDS leaders erected some of the structures in the compound to rape and "defile little girls," much as was done at the Yearning For Zion ranch in Texas.
To that end, Jessop explained, some of the buildings had double thick walls and other unusual structural elements.
"You could hit those walls with a cement truck and it wouldn't faze them," he said.
Jessop added that he was pleased to have won the auction so the buildings would never be used for their alleged intended purpose.
Many of the buildings auctioned Thursday were built after Jeffs was incarcerated and were never used by the now-imprisoned FLDS leader. According to Jessop, the school building is the only one of the auctioned buildings that has been previously used.
Jessop did not say what exactly he planned to do with the buildings, though he said he was interested in seeing the school once again operating. He also said he hopes to tear down the massive concrete wall that surrounds several of the buildings.
The wall, which is painted white and topped with iron fencing, blocks street views of the buildings. Jessop compared them to the Berlin Wall which he said he recently visited and described it as a reminder of what has happened in the community. Jessop added that he hopes to use the compound to help people who have been victimized by the FLDS church.
"I think everybody in the community has been abused by the church leaders," Jessop said.
Immediately after the auction Jessop and his attorney Mark James huddled on the courthouse steps with sheriff's deputies, signing papers. James said the auction turned out as he expected, though he and Jessop would have liked to have seen other bids on the property. James explained that money would have been easier for Jessop to deal with than land.
James also said the previous owners of the property have the opportunity to reclaim it for six months by paying the purchase price plus 6 percent. If that doesn't happen, Jessop will receive a title to the land.
Jessop also played down any financial gain he will get from the property, saying he and his business are in "$10 million away from being millionaires" due to massive debts he incurred while supporting FLDS leadership.
As Jessop and James finished up their paper work, members of the community stood beneath the newly-green trees discussing the auction. Among them, Charlie Barlow had come into St. George with several other men to observe the sale. Barlow said he wasn't surprised that no one else bid on the property. But Barlow also expressed skepticism about Jessop's intentions.
"It's just one step down from Warren," he said of the transfer of the compound from Jeffs to Jessop. Barlow later clarified that the compound still remains in the hands of one person instead of a community trust like much of the property in Hildale and adjacent Colorado City, Ariz.
Barlow also said he wouldn't send his children to the school if Jessop managed to reopen it.
In addition to being a spokesman for Jeffs, Jessop served as a protector for Jeffs and before that for his father, Rulon Jeffs. Jessop has acknowledged taking orders from the younger Jeffs and assisting him while Jeffs was on the run and for the first few years of his incarceration.
Jessop declined to give information about any inquiries he has received about the property, but said he would be willing to entertain offers.
When he was on the property Thursday afternoon, Jessop said he hopes to use the buildings to heal rifts in the community. He mentioned the idea of using the residential buildings as an assisted living center or family housing. He also expressed interest in using a building on the property as a school.
On the other side of a massive wall, the compound included a large mansion that was used only briefly by members of Warren Jeffs' family. The home's yard still included nine raised garden beds. Large red peppers still hung on dead plants.
In another area, a smaller red brick home that Jessop said was built for Jeffs was surrounded by flowers, short pine trees and dying grass.
Outside, the imposing white wall that surrounded the compound was dyed red from the dust. Near the south corner, it bore the stains and shell fragments of thrown eggs. Fire ants crisscrossed the empty sidewalk.
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