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Texas out to seize Warren Jeffs' polygamist ranch

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PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas - The state of Texas is trying to seize ownership of Warren Jeffs' polygamist ranch where prosecutors say the convicted sect leader and a dozen followers sexually assaulted children.

The Texas attorney general's office filed a seizure warrant Wednesday in rural Schleicher County. A judge will determine whether the state can take control of the massive property owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Until then, sect members are allowed to continue living on the ranch. It's unknown how many families live at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, 45 miles south of San Angelo.

Jeffs was convicted last year of sexually assaulting two of his underage brides. He is serving life in prison in Texas.


Texas Attorney General's News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 27, 2012


State of Texas Files Legal Action to Seize West Texas Ranch Where Warren Jeffs and Sect Members Sexually Assaulted Children

YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, housed FLDS compound, harbored Warren Jeffs, and facilitated the systemic sexual assault of minor children

AUSTIN – The Texas Attorney General's Office has initiated legal proceedings to seize the YFZ Ranch, a 1,600-acre property in West Texas where multiple children were sexually assaulted by members of the FLDS. The filing of a search and seizure warrant in the 51st State District Court begins the final chapter of the State's nearly five-year effort to pursue widespread criminal misconduct at the YFZ Ranch.

In a 91-page affidavit that was submitted to the court along with the search and seizure warrant, a law enforcement officer with the Texas Attorney General's Office describes how proceeds from illegal activity were used to purchase the ranch, which FLDS leaders bought in a failed attempt to establish a remote outpost where they could insulate themselves from criminal prosecution for sexually assaulting children.

According to the affidavit, the YFZ Ranch was purchased on the orders of Warren Jeffs, who sought a rural location where the FLDS could operate a polygamist compound where the systemic sexual assault of children would be tolerated without interference from law enforcement authorities. The affidavit also explains that the State has successfully prosecuted nine FLDS members – including Warren Jeffs – for sexually assaulting children at the YFZ Ranch.

The affidavit also provides a detailed accounting of the FLDS's finances, explains how the FLDS's leaders illegally structured financial transactions to evade law enforcement oversight, and describes how Warren Jeffs personally toured the YFZ Ranch before subsequently authorizing its purchase. Based on a thorough financial audit of the FLDS's bank accounts, the affidavit details how the purchase of the ranch itself and the construction of a massive compound on ranch property were financed with the proceeds of illegal money laundering.

In addition to the money laundering and felony sexual assault convictions associated with the YFZ Ranch cited in the affidavit, FLDS members used the ranch to illegally harbor Jeffs when he was a fugitive on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List. Evidence that law enforcement authorities collected at the YFZ Ranch also shows that ranch residents "engaged in, and/or acquired the property with the intent to commit, felony offenses upon the property and within the buildings and improvements of this property."

Under Texas law, law enforcement authorities can seek to seize property that was used to commit or facilitate certain criminal conduct. The affidavit and seizure warrant filed today by the State begins the legal process for seizing the YFZ Ranch property. Because the law includes due process protections for the owners of property that is the subject of a seizure warrant, the warrant and affidavits filed today mark only the beginning of the legal proceedings.

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.
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