The Attorney General's office of the State of Texas says that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs purchased his ranch in Texas to commit crimes. In Texas, that constitutes money laundering, and makes the ranch subject to seizure, so the state has filed a seizure warrant for the ranch, even though no plans have been made as to what to do with the ranch if the state gets it. What does this mean for the people still living on the ranch? The Salt Lake Tribune describes what could be a controversial move on the part of the state:
The property is appraised at $19.96 million, according to county tax rolls.
The warrant is akin to civil foreclosure rather than a criminal investigation, but it could force the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) members living there to move off the property, said sect attorney Rod Parker. Authorities taped the warrant to the YFZ Ranch gate Tuesday afternoon and made it public Wednesday.
"It seems like the objective is to take the property and sell it to the highest bidder," Parker said.
If authorities evict the sect members living there, "they’re punishing the victims. These aren’t the people who committed the crimes," he said, though he couldn’t immediately respond to the money-laundering charges. The sect will have a chance to answer the charges and fight for ownership of the ranch at a yet-to-be scheduled hearing on the seizure.
The court filings do not mean FLDS members living on the ranch must immediately leave, said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. He called the warrant the next chapter in the state’s prosecution against sect leaders, which began with a massive raid on the ranch in 2008 that resulted in criminal charges related to underage marriage.
"Obviously, this is an extension of what has happened to this point with the criminal convictions of men at the ranch," Strickland said. He declined to comment on whether new charges may be leveled against sect members. None had been filed as of Wednesday.
The legal action came as sect members appear to be abandoning the area. In recent months, FLDS-owned homes, businesses and a farm have gone into foreclosure or been neglected. This summer, a large concrete tower built by sect members was mysteriously torn down and destroyed.
"It appears there’s a skeleton crew out there just keeping things going," said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran.
Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison last year for sexually assaulting children, but still exercises quite a lot of control over cult members living on the ranch compound, which is completely self-sufficient, having its own sewage and water treatment plant, school, clinics and residential areas.
The Attorney General's office states in a press release that the FLDS members will be given an opportunity to oppose the seizure.
"As required by the Code of Criminal Procedure, the State served the property owners – and Warren Jeffs – with a formal legal notice informing the property owners about the instigation of forfeiture proceedings. At a later date, the 51st District Court will hold a hearing where the FLDS will be given an opportunity to oppose the seizure and submit evidence supporting its case. Because the hearing and any related court proceedings are civil – rather than criminal –the process is governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern ordinary civil litigation in the State of Texas."