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Texas takes possession of polygamous ranch

Published April 17, 2014 10:52 pm

The ranch is called an asset in a criminal enterprise in which Jeffs and FLDS followers abused underage girls.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Texas authorities have taken physical possession of the polygamous YFZ Ranch, bringing an end to a compound once hailed as a place of refuge for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The Texas Department of Public Safety issued a news release Thursday saying law enforcement arrived at the ranch Wednesday and "are working with the occupants of the ranch to take all reasonable actions to assist with their departure of the property, to preserve the property, and to successfully execute the court order."

The department said it will take an inventory of real property and protect the remaining assets. The department declined to answer further questions.

It was unknown how many people were still living on the ranch Wednesday. There were about 800 residents when Texas law enforcement conducted a massive raid on the ranch in 2008. Since then observers have described just a handful of people remaining.

It's unclear what will 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.

The ranch was appraised in 2012 at $19.96 million, according to county tax rolls. It consists of about 1,600 acres — with living quarters, barns, classrooms and a towering temple used to commit sex crimes — located in a remote part of West Texas.

The FLDS bought theYFZ Ranch, which stood for "Yearning for Zion," in 2003. Written records kept by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, called priesthood records, indicate he established the ranch as a sacred place because he believed members would be driven from their home base in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

The 2008 raid by Texas and federal law enforcement began after a bogus tip that a girl on the ranch was being held against her will and wanted to escape. While that tip was false, once law officers visited the ranch, they found evidence of underage marriage and sexual abuse and filed criminal charges against a dozen men, including Jeffs.

Jeffs, 58, was convicted in 2011 of and sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, he took as spiritual wives. He is now serving a life prison sentence.

Ten other FLDS men have been convicted on bigamy, underage marriage or sexual abuse charges, using evidence seized in the 2008 raid. One man was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report child abuse.

The Texas attorney general in 2012 went to court to seize the ranch. The state alleged the ranch was an asset in a criminal enterprise in which Jeffs and his followers conspired to marry and have sex with underage girls.

The FLDS put up no fight. On Jan. 6 of this year, Texas won a default judgment to seize the ranch.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle