What’s the Difference Between the LDS and FLDS?
The recent scandals involving the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) have led many to confuse the sect with the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS), commonly known as the Mormons. Although FLDS members refer to themselves as Mormons, they are not connected to the LDS Church in any way. The fundamentalist branch separated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around 1889 because the sect was unwilling to accept that polygamy as a church practice had ended. They broke away and formed their own communities, and any current LDS member who decides to begin practicing polygamy is excommunicated.
How Many FLDS Members Are There?
The FLDS Church is estimated to have between 6,000 and 10,000 members, according to CNN.
Were Do They Live?
Most FLDS members live in the following cities: Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Arizona; Eldorado, Texas; Westcliffe, Colorado; Mancos, Colorado; Creston and Bountiful, British Columbia; and Pringle, South Dakota. The sect is also developing communities in Benjamín Hill, Sonora; Ensenada, Baja California; and Boise City, Oklahoma.
Warren Jeffs, the FLDS and a History of Sexual Abuse
Warren Jeffs, the ambitious son of FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs, took control of the FLDS in the late ’90s. Jeffs was obsessed with the idea of “perfect obedience,” and rumored to be attempting to create a master race through a secret breeding program known as the “seed bearers.” In 2002, the FLDS leader came under investigation for child rape in Utah, and went on the lam while marrying off teenage girls to the sect’s leadership. By May 2006, Jeffs had landed on the FBI’s 10-most wanted list for multiple counts of sexually assaulting minors. He was arrested later that year during a routine traffic stop outside Las Vegas while carrying 16 cellphones, 3 wigs and $56,000 in cash.
For a time, with the case against Jeffs falling apart, it seemed like he might actually beat the rap. But when Texas police breached the gates of his Texas compound in 2008, evidence emerged that resulted in the temporary removal of more than 400 children, sparking the largest child-custody battle in U.S. history. Also uncovered was evidence that Jeffs had taken multiple teen brides and married one girl who was only 12-years old. The disgraced prophet was extradited from Utah to Texas in August 2011, and eventually sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.
Church Members Ordered to Pray for Jeffs’ Escape
According to former FLDS member Joe Broadbent, church members must stop every hour during the day to pray for Warren Jeffs to escape from prison.
“That’s a big test for them,” Broadbent said. “He’s like, ‘the only way that I’m not out is because you’re not faithful enough’… he puts so much pressure on the people. They’re fasting… they don’t eat for three days at a time, [and] they pray, and pray and pray.”
Convicted Polygamist Still Leads FLDS From Prison
Despite being convicted and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered his wives, polygamous leader Warren Jeffs continues to run the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints from behind bars.
Earlier this year, one of Warren Jeffs’ 70-odd wives tried to visit him at a Texas prison with a tiny microphone concealed in a hallowed-out watch. Another wife was denied entrance to the prison after a metal detector found a device buried in her hair that she refused to reveal. Such is the perpetual hide-and-seek game authorities are forced to play with Jeffs, who is serving his time at the Louis C. Powledge Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Palestine, TX.
Details of the microphone and other ploys to record communications with Jeffs were revealed at a trial earlier this month which offered a rare glimpse into how the imprisoned FLDS prophet still tries to maintain control over the church from behind bars.
Among other violations of prison rules, Jeffs’ phone privileges were temporarily revoked in 2012 when it was found that the caller on the other end was broadcasting his words over a speakerphone, and a prisons official testified at the trial that some mail sent by Jeffs was blocked when it was determined to be written in code.
Ever since his arrival at Powledge in 2011, Jeffs has required special attention as an inmate, receiving over 1,000 letters a day in the beginning, mainly from his devoted flock at the FLDS. That’s more letters than all the other 1,000 inmates combined at the facility, where he is held in protective custody.
Every piece of mail that enters Powledge is opened and inspected for contraband; outgoing mail is also examined. Although Jeffs’ mail volume has subsided over the years, he still gets up to 300 letters each day.
Jeffs doesn’t socialize, rarely gets visitors, makes few phone calls and refuses interview requests from the media, according to prison officials. He doesn’t have a cellmate and is only allowed outside his cell 3 hours per day for recreation. All meals are delivered to his cell.
He is allowed up to 10 people on an approved visitor list that can be changed every 6 months. The prison limits an inmate’s phone list to 20 numbers and all conversations are monitored by a third-party contractor. Exactly who’s on Jeffs’ list is confidential; however, a prison official testified at trial that 2 of his brothers, Isaac and Nephi, are his most frequent visitors.
Jeffs is searched before he’s transferred to the visitation area, and isn’t allowed to bring anything except his prison ID card. During visits from his immediate family members, he sits across from them at a table. Other visitors communicate through a mesh screen. Corrections officers are always nearby.
Willie Jessop, a former FLDS security chief who has renounced the sect, testified that he received over 100 coded letters taken out of the prison by Jeffs’ attorneys. They were decoded by his wives and then distributed to church members.
According to Jessop, FLDS members who blindly followed Jeffs for years are still writing him because they are leaderless and desperate for guidance.
“It’s just going to take time to wear this out, just like coming to grips with the fact there’s no Santa Claus living at the North Pole,” he said.
FLDS Schools Teach Children Jeffs is President of the U.S.
Public schools in Colorado City and Hildale, which re-opened in 2014, were closed for 13 years after Jeffs ordered church members to home-school their children using FLDS teachings. Jeffs believed public schools were an evil influence. According to former members of the sect, Jeffs’ face is on every school notebook, and FLDS schools teach that he is the president of the United States, and that man never landed on the moon because God guided Neil Armstrong away from it.
Jeffs’ Children Allege Sex Abuse
At least 2 of Warren Jeffs’ own children have alleged that the FLDS leader sexually molested them as children, according to CNN. Becky and Roy Jeffs, both now adults, are among 4 of Jeffs’ children to have have left the sect. Becky said she first revealed the abuse to one of her sisters, after the sister revealed she had been molested as a child.
“I thought, I’m not the only one molested, he’s done it to her it must be something that was in his nature,” Becky Jeffs said. “Where does it end? If he had this in him, how can I trust him? How is he really our prophet?”
Couple Awarded $5.3 Million After Polygamist Towns Tried to Force Them Out by Refusing Water Supply
Ronald and Jinjer Cooke won a $5.3 million settlement after claiming their local governments had been “hijacked” by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, according to NY Daily News. The Cooke’s claimed that the municipal governments of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, discriminated against them for not being part of the FLDS organization. Government officials reportedly refused to give them access to running water in an effort to drive them out.
The Cookes and their 3 children moved to Colorado City in 2008, which together with Hildale encompasses the largely polygamous “Short Creek” community. Upon their arrival, the city refused to hook up electricity, sewage and water services for their home. The government eventually turned on the sewage and the electricity, but the family has continued to live without running water for over 5 years.
Attorneys for the 2 cities argued that the Cookes were denied utilities because of a local water shortage, and because they didn’t fill out the necessary paperwork. The defense also claimed that the family was being used as a pawn in a money-making scheme against the FLDS.
However, several former members of the church supported the Cookes’ accusations of discrimination. Patrick Barlow testified that he was part of an unofficial FLDS security unit that was assigned to spy on the family. Security team members even had access to the city’s surveillance cameras, according to Barlow.
In March 2014, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against officials in Colorado City and Hildale accusing them of acting as agents for the FLDS church, according to FOX 13.
Polygamist Cult Forced Husbands to Watch ‘Seed Bearers’ Rape Their Wives: Investigator
The FLDS banned its men from fathering children and forced them to watch as their wives were raped by “seed bearers,” or church members with “worthy bloodlines,” according to NY Daily News. Court documents and a private investigator claim that the FLDS engaged in “ritualistic procreation” after it forbade husbands and wives from touching each other. Sam Bower, a private investigator who wrote a tell-all account of the FLDS called “Prophet’s Prey,” said the no-contact rule was so strict, a couple wasn’t even allowed to shake hands under threat of adultery.
Jeff’s estranged sister-in-law Charlene first described “seed bearers” and systematic rape carried out by the FLDS in a child custody petition in 2015.
“It is the husband’s responsibility to hold the hands of their wives while the seed bearer ‘spreads his seed,” Charlene said. “In layman terms, the husband is required to sit in the room while the chosen seed bearer, or a couple of them, rape his wife or wives.”
Bower also spoke of the highly choreographed intercourse carried out by the seed bearers. “It’s ritualistic procreation,” Bower said, adding that sexual activities were “performed on a ritualistic bed-slash-altar.”
‘Lost Boys’ of the FLDS
Up to 1,000 teenage boys have been separated from their parents and thrown out of their communities by the FLDS, according to The Guardian. Many of these “Lost Boys” — some as young as 13 — were simply dumped on the side of the road by church leaders who told them they will never go to heaven or see their families again.
At least 6 of the Lost Boys have filed a lawsuit against Warren Jeffs for conspiracy to purge surplus males from the community. FLDS officials claim the boys were exiled because they were teenage delinquents who refused to obey church rules; however, according to Utah attorney general’s office investigator Jim Hill, the expulsion had more to do with the sexual arithmetic of a polygamous sect.
“Obviously if you’re going to have three to one or four to one female to male marriages, you’re going to run out of females,” Hill said. “The way of taking care of it is selectively casting out those you don’t want to be in the religion.”
Son of FLDS Leader Warren Jeffs Dead at 26
June 3, 2019 – Roy Jeffs, son of imprisoned polygamist cult leader Warren Jeffs and one of the first to speak out against him, was found dead from an apparent suicide at his Salt Lake City home on Friday, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Rachel Jeffs, one of Roy’s half sisters, went on record blaming the 26-year-old’s suicide on their imprisoned father.
“Father didn’t love him,” Rachel said. “[Roy] knew it. All of us knew it. We all got told Roy was a bad boy.”
Roy Jeffs broke from the flock in 2015 during an interview with CNN which provided stunning new insight into the man revered by thousands, and even considered a prophet among the FLDS.
“I remember him saying you should never do this,” Roy Jeffs said. “And then he did it to me.”
Another one of Roy’s half-sisters, Becky Jeffs, also participated in the interview and accused her father of years of sexual abuse.
FLDS Compound Has New Leader: Court Docs
March 4, 2019 – A compound in Black Hills, South Dakota, owned by the FLDS, is now under the control of a nephew of the facility’s former leader, court records indicate.
Helaman Jeffs, the nephew of former overseer and current registered operator in absentia of the compound, Seth Jeffs, stated while testifying as a witness during an April 2018 preliminary hearing, “I’ve been called upon to secure the place and make sure nothing is taken or messed with unless it is done by proper authority.”
In 2006, Seth Jeffs was convicted of harboring a fugitive for his role in helping Warren Jeffs avoid arrest.
In December 2016, Seth Jeffs pleaded guilty in a food-stamp fraud case in which he and 10 other high-ranking FLDS members were accused of ordering rank and file FLDS members to turn over their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to be redistributed as the leadership saw fit. Jeffs was released from jail after receiving credit for the 6 months he served before his plea bargain.
It was also in 2016 that Helaman Jeffs was sent to the South Dakota compound for the first time, according to the Rapid City Journal.
The whereabouts of Seth Jeffs had been the subject of speculation until this past January, when he surfaced as a registered agent for a company that purchased 40 acres of land in Minnesota, where he also has a permit to build an uncompleted 5,750 square-foot building.
Boy Scouts, LDS Settle Nearly 20 Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
December 28, 2018 – A total of 19 lawsuits accusing the Boy Scouts of America and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) of harboring child molesters and systematically covering up decades of abuse have settled in civil court. The suits alleged that the Boy Scouts kept files on Scoutmasters accused of sexual misconduct, but failed to pass this vital information on to parents of children enrolled in the organization. The suits also contend that the scope of abuse was common knowledge within the Boy Scouts’ upper echelon, and that officials were aware of child molesters in their ranks, but kept that information a secret from law enforcement and families.
Lawsuit Accuses FLDS Church Leaders of Ritualistic Sex Abuse
January 4, 2018 – High-ranking members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have been accused in a new lawsuit of carrying out a “calculated plan” of ritualistic sexual abuse involving girls as young as 8-years-old.
The complaint names as defendants the United Effort Plan Trust, Warren Jeffs, his brothers Lyle Jeffs and Seth Jeffs, former FLDS leader Wendell Nielsen, and the FLDS Church.
Plaintiff alleges that the Jeffs brothers, Nielsen, and other church leaders had sex with underage girls as part of their FLDS beliefs, according to FOX 13. The suit further contends that Warren Jeffs took over as leader of the FLDS after his father, Rulon T. Jeffs, had a stroke in August 1998.
Plaintiff alleges that it was after Warren became head of the church that leaders began ritualistically having sex with young girls in the FLDS Temple and other properties owned by the church.
Sex with girls, ages eight to 14 years old, was initiated by Warren Jeffs, along with leadership of UEP Trust and the FLDS Church, including the Twelve Apostles of the Church engaging in and witnessing the sexual relations between Warren S. Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs, Seth Jeffs and Wendell LeRoy Nielsen and other John Does viewing, watching, taping, participating in and documenting these sexual encounters with underage girls,” the complaint states.
Suit Alleges Jeffs, FLDS Leaders Molested Young Girls: FOX 13 Video
Plaintiff in the suit — a 21-year-old woman known only as “R.H.” in court documents — claims that she was given a number and never referred to by her real name during church ceremonies.
“This horrific religious doctrine and religious rituals as performed on plaintiff consisted of plaintiff, beginning at the age of 8, having a bag placed over her head, led out of her house by representatives of the defendants, placed in a vehicle and being driven to an unknown location,” the lawsuit states. “Warren S. Jeffs told (R.H.) that if she told anyone of these encounters, God would destroy her and her family immediately.”
The abuse occurred 5 to 6 times per week until Plaintiff turned 12, she said. When Plaintiff was 14-years-old, she was required to witness and document other girls’ ritualistic abuse with church leaders, according to the lawsuit.
Plaintiff is requesting a jury trial, and demands both physical and emotional damages, as well as attorney fees and any other relief as the court deems reasonable.
Lyle Jeffs Sentenced to Prison for SNAP Fraud
December 19, 2017 – Polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sect leader Lyle Jeffs was sentenced to nearly 5 years in prison for what authorities have called the largest food stamp fraud in U.S. history.
In addition to the prison time, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Steward sentenced Jeffs to 3 years probation and required him to pay $1 million in restitution to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Jeffs in September pleaded guilty to running a fraud scheme involving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and for failure to appear as part of a plea deal.
Specifically, Jeffs church was accused of ordering other FLDS members to funnel millions in SNAP benefits into a communal store and other front properties, to be then controlled by the church leadership as they saw fit.
The U.S. Justice Department claimed that Jeffs stole almost $12 million from the SNAP program, while the defense alleged it was closer to $2 million.
“I acknowledge my mistake and my decision making and how it affected the law,” Jeffs told the judge. “I humbly accept responsibilities for my actions.”
Judge Steward released Jeffs to home confinement while awaiting trial, but in June 2016, he used olive oil to slip out of his ankle monitor and evaded authorities for nearly a year.
He was finally apprehended in South Dakota after a pawn shop worker recognized him trying to sell his pliers. Jeffs was living out his pickup at the time, according to the Washington Post.
FLDS Leader Apprehended After Year on the Lam
June 19, 2017 – Bishop Lyle Jeffs has been captured nearly a year since he escaped from home confinement while awaiting charges in a multi-million dollar food stamp fraud scheme.
Jeffs, who fled from federal custody last summer in Salt Lake City, Utah, was arrested Wednesday night without incident at a marina in Yankton, South Dakota, according to the Washington Post. He appeared in court the following day, refusing to answer questions from reporters as he was led into the building.
“The long arm of the law will eventually catch up with you and bring you back to justice,” said John Huber, the US Attorney for the District of Utah. “Undoubtedly, the flight from prosecution and his fugitive status will play a part (in the upcoming court case).”
Last week, the FBI received a tip from a citizen – including a description of the vehicle Jeffs was apprehended in – which proved instrumental in making the arrest.
Yankton is about 400 miles east of an FLDS compound in Pringle, South Dakota. It’s still unclear as to whether church members gave Jeffs support while he was on the lam; however, authorities do know that Jeffs has had limited communication and resources over the past year.
“We knew that this was just a matter of time,” said Eric Barnhart, FBI Special Agent in Charge for the Salt Lake City Division. “He may not have been in physical custody … but he spent that whole time, I am sure, looking over his shoulder, wondering about every police officer he saw, every highway patrolman and what person would eventually give him up, and I believe all of those things played out.”
Following up on a tip, an off-duty Yankton police detective spotted Jeffs’ truck at the marina, called for backup, and conducted a traffic stop, the FBI said.
Jeffs confirmed his identity to authorities and was taken into custody. He is being held without bond on a Federal Marshals Service hold in South Dakota’s Minnehaha County, according to online booking records.
FLDS Food Stamp Fraud Charges Dropped
January 10, 2017 – A member of the FLDS charged with food stamp fraud will avoid jail time and fines after his charges were dropped.
U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart on Friday approved federal prosecutors’ request to dismiss charges against Nephi Allred, an FLDS high priest who, along with 10 other high-ranking members, was accused of ordering rank and file church members to turn over food stamp benefits to be redistributed as the leadership wished.
According to court documents, prosecutors requested dismissal of the charges in “the interests of justice.” U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said she couldn’t provide any further details regarding the prosecutors’ about-face.
Allred’s attorneys had recently asked Judge Stewart to suppress evidence against him based on the argument it was gathered illegally.
Eight other defendants in the case recently took plea deals, leaving only fugitive leader Lyle Jeffs and one other with charges pending.
FLDS Leader Sentenced in Food Stamp Fraud Case
January 3, 2017 – A high-ranking member of the FLDS has reached a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, admitting to food stamp fraud in a deal that got him released from jail immediately.
Seth Jeffs pleaded guilty on Wednesday to Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program fraud. In exchange, he was sentenced to time served (about six months in jail), no probation or restitution, and he and his family would avoid further prosecution in the case. Jeffs will be required to sit in on a government-provided training on proper use of SNAP benefits.
Jeffs smiled after he was sentenced and unshackled. U.S. Marshals allowed him to leave out a side door at the courthouse, avoiding TV cameras outside. Prosecutors said he oversees the FLDS church’s South Dakota property.
The defendants claimed they have a right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to give their property to the church. The FLDS live under the early Mormon concept of a “united order,” where members give their property and earnings to the church which divides it based on “wants and needs,” according to a defense filing.
Jeffs’ plea bargain is similar to one given to John Wayman, another FLDS member who pleaded guilty last week to a felony charge of food stamp fraud and was released from jail.
“I believe the government has made a prudent decision in its disposition,” U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart said as the hearing concluded.
FLDS Teen Bride Awarded $2.75 Million Settlement
May 9, 2016 – A woman who was forced by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs to marry when she was just 14-years-old has been awarded $2.75 million from the polygamist church’s United Effort Plan Trust.
Elissa Wall filed a lawsuit against the United Effort Plan Trust, which is now managed by the state of Utah, in an effort to hold FLDS leaders responsible for abuse that underage girls suffered at the hands of Warren Jeffs. Wall initially requested $40 million after she says she was forced to marry her cousin as a teenager; however, last week she agreed to settle for $1.5 million in cash and $1.25 million in property.
According to the Daily Mail, Elissa was forced into marriage with her 19-year-old cousin in 2001 while living at the FLDS compound along the Utah-Arizona border, where Warren Jeffs used his power to abuse young women and force them to marry at an early age.
Wall was instrumental in helping convict Jeffs after she testified that he was an accomplice in her 2007 rape. She is just one of many women who have accused him of abusing young women who lived on the FLDS compound.
Wall says that she hopes that the community can be rebuilt without the control of FLDS leaders. She says the focus of the community should be on family, friendship and growth, “not the tall fences and secrecy” that currently shroud the complex.
Utah AG Investigating FLDS Human Trafficking Violations
November 15, 2015 – The Utah Attorney General’s Office may be investigating human trafficking and labor violations associated with the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, according to an advocate in the polygamous towns of Hildale, UT., and Colorado City, AZ.
The attorney general’s office sent two investigators from the human trafficking task force to Hildale, according to Marie Katas, founder of Voices For Dignity, an awareness campaign that speaks out against human rights violations.
“There was evidence of human trafficking and we’re trying to figure out what to do,” Katas said.
The investigation has been described as involving violations of child and adult labor; however, a spokesman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes would not confirm the existence of any such investigation. In June, U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell ruled that FLDS-linked companies violated child labor laws for an incident in which over 1,000 underage church members were ordered to pick pecans at a farm in Hurricane, Utah.
Katas spoke out against human trafficking as part of a recent event hosted by the Utah AG’s Office, which focused on legal issues surrounding plural marriage, pending court cases and best practices for working with members of polygamous communities.
The meeting took place just as Utah approaches a crossroads in its handling of polygamy. The U.S. Supreme Court could take up a legal challenge against the state’s ban on polygamy filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives.
“I would like to see Brown win and I would like to see decriminalization because I think it helps families whether they are are in polygamy or out of polygamy,” said Alina Darger, a plural wife and director of the group Cherish Families, who participated in the meeting. “(It will) drive things up that are underground due to the criminal nature of things.”
Warren Jeffs Won’t Answer FLDS Abuse Lawsuit
November 2, 2016 – Warren Jeffs refuses to answer an abuse lawsuit filed against him by former members of the FLDS, so the courts are proceeding without him.
A notice of default was filed against Warren Jeffs today in the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, Utah, according to FOX 13. Default status does not mean that Jeffs is off the hook for his alleged crimes, only that he’s failed to respond to the charges or appear in court.
The complaint was filed against Jeffs and the law firm that used to represent him by 32 former FLDS members who are alleging numerous crimes, including child bride marriages.
Jeffs’ former law firm and the FLDS’ former attorney have petitioned to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that it has no merit and that the plaintiffs have attempted unsuccessfully to link them to a long list of misconduct. The firm maintains that an attorney’s legal work on behalf of a client is not an endorsement of their views or activities.
In the past, Jeffs has refused to respond to litigation or answer questions in depositions in related cases. He was served with the lawsuit in July, but has not answered it or hired a lawyer, according to the court.
A federal judge will next consider whether to dismiss the complaint. Plaintiffs’ lawyers recently asked a judge to keep the suit alive and allow it to be heard by a jury.
Warren Jeffs Restructuring FLDS from Prison, Feds Say
August 10, 2016 – FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is currently orchestrating a shakeup of his crumbling sect, according to court documents filed Monday by federal prosecutors.
Jeffs has ordered a complete overhaul of the FLDS leadership, feds say. The findings came in a court filing seeking to keep other church leaders in jail as they await trial in a massive food stamp fraud case.
The court documents detail the inner strife of the embattled FLDS, which is facing pressure from federal authorities as well as “apostates,” ex-church members who continue to live near the sect’s home base in the neighboring communities of Hildale, UT., and Colorado City, AZ.
Documents indicate that Warren Jeffs has named a new bishop of Short Creek, replacing Lyle with one of his other brothers, Nephi. Jeffs has also eliminated the FLDS United Order, which was established under Lyle. The prophet has placed his followers on “restoral status,” meaning they must renew their commitment to the church. “My church orders are out of order,” Jeffs wrote in a June 3 letter to the FLDS. He added that the “bishop’s assistant,” Ben Johnson, “is of no priesthood and needs go far away on repenting labor” and is banned from communicating with other sect members.
Lyle Jeffs Flees Home Confinement; Federal Arrest Warrant Issued
June 21, 2016 – The FBI has issued an arrest warrant for FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs, who authorities say disappeared just weeks after being released ahead of his upcoming food stamp fraud trial. Word of Jeffs’ flight angered many former FLDS members who didn’t think he should have been released from jail in the first place, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.
“Blame the judge for this,” said Wallace Jeffs, one of Lyle’s half brothers. “Everybody knew that he was going to do this. Everybody.”
Judge Rules FLDS-Linked Company in Contempt for Child Labor Law Violations
June 20, 2016 – A federal judge has found a company linked to the polygamous FLDS to be in contempt of court for putting hundreds of children to work on a Utah farm in 2012.
U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell ruled on June 1, 2016, that Brian Jessop and Paragon Contractors were in violation of child labor laws for the incident, where over 1,000 FLDS children were ordered to pick pecans at a farm in Hurricane, Utah.
“The children were not volunteers,” Campbell said. “Also, much of the work occurred during school hours and was hazardous, so that work does not qualify for FLSA’s agricultural exemption.”
Campbell placed some the blame on the FLDS Church itself, which she said ordered the children to work on the farm.
“Moreover, hanging over the decision whether to work was the threat of retaliation by the FLDS Church if the members did not follow instructions,” the judge said.
The case has been on the books in the federal court system for years, with the U.S. Department of Labor pursuing sanctions against the company and the FLDS Church itself in related cases. The federal government last year filed a lawsuit against the church seeking nearly $2 million for child labor law violations.
Navajo Nation Files 2nd Abuse Lawsuit Against Mormon Church
June 1, 2016 – Another Navajo woman is suing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), alleging she was sexually abused as a child while in foster care in Utah.
A Navajo woman identified in court documents as “B.N.” says she was sexually molested and raped repeatedly while in foster care and by healthcare providers in Utah between 1965 and 1972, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The girl was among thousands of American Indians who participated in the Mormon Church’s Indian Student Placement Program. The program was initiated in the 1940s and continued through around 2000; participation was voluntary.
In March, 2 Navajo siblings filed a lawsuit against the LDS citing similar allegations. Attorneys representing the 3 plaintiffs say church leaders failed to report the abuse and protect the children who, as adults, continue to suffer from emotional and physical trauma. The complaints seek changes to church policy, written apologies and unspecified damages.
The LDS has not responded to the most recent allegations, but has said in the past that it does not tolerate abuse of any kind, and now tracks church members who have been accused of harming children.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys say the Navajo Nation is the proper jurisdiction for the suits because decisions regarding where to place children were made on the reservation. LDS argues the tribal court is not the proper venue because none of the alleged abuses took place on the reservation.
LDS Attorneys asked a federal judge not to allow the tribal court to hear the complaints, saying it is unfair to require the church to litigate in a venue that doesn’t have criminal jurisdiction over non-tribal members.
Prosecutors Want FLDS Towns’ Police Force Disbanded
May 2, 2016 – The U.S. Justice Department has asked a federal judge to break up the police force in the FLDS stronghold towns of Hildale, UT, and Colorado City, AZ, according to FOX 13. The request followed a jury’s ruling that the towns’ governments discriminated against community members who did not belong to the FLDS, and acted as an arms of the church and its leader, Warren Jeffs. The Justice Department also asked in a court filing (PDF) for property to be subdivided and independent oversight for the town governments.
FLDS Settlement Reached in Discrimination Lawsuit
April 19, 2016 – A settlement has been reached between the federal government and the twin polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., accused of discriminating against residents who did not belong to the FLDS.
In a settlement agreement filed in a Phoenix federal court, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Hildale and Colorado City had agreed to pay $55,000 each to settle claims in violation of the Fair Housing Act, according to FOX 13 News. Additionally, the defendants would pay about $1.4 million to 9 people who were found to have been discriminated against. Both sides would pay their own attorney’s fees, according to the agreement.
The Justice Department sued the towns, accusing local governments of discriminating against community members who didn’t belong to the FLDS, and of acting as agents for church leaders. After a trial that lasted weeks, the jury ruled in favor of the U.S. government. The settlement does not include any other penalties, which are expected to be decided at a hearing in Phoenix later this year.
‘Sister Wives’ Lawsuit Dismissed
April 13, 2016 – A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his 4 wives, declaring that the family did not actually face a threat of prosecution from Utah authorities.
The polygamous family from TV’s ‘Sister Wives’ will take their fight to legalize polygamy to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to FOX 13. Kody Brown and his 4 wives say that polygamous marriages can be just as healthy as monogamous unions, and they argue a Utah law that makes plural marriages illegal violates their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said Brown and his wives cannot sue the state of Utah over its ban on polygamy because the family was never charged with any crime, and prosecutors agreed not to prosecute consenting adults with multiple wives, according to CBS News.
The court’s decision overturns a 2013 ruling that removed the threat of arrest for parties engaged in plural marriage. In that case, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups determined that the threat of prosecution forced the Browns to flee Utah, and that the state’s bigamy law violated their right to privacy and religious freedom.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes appealed the ruling, as the state has maintained a policy of not prosecuting consenting adult polygamists. However, prosecutors argued that the ban should stay in place to help authorities go after polygamists like Warren Jeffs, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered his wives.
Brown’s ‘sister wives’ lawsuit alleged that there are other laws on the books that target crimes associated with polygamy, and that banning the practice can breed distrust of authority. The family further contends that their reality TV show is evidence that polygamous unions can be as healthy as monogamous marriages.
Bigamy, or holding multiple marriage licenses, remains illegal in Utah and throughout the U.S. Brown has a license for only one of his marriages, and says his other unions are spiritual.
There are about 30,000 polygamists living in Utah today, according to court documents. Practitioners believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven – a fundamental legacy of the early Mormon church.
Former FLDS Members Reveal Church Secrets in FBI Docs
April 6, 2016 – A decade after the arrest of Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs, church members are disobeying their prophet’s orders and revealing long-held secrets to the FBI.
Former FLDS members speaking out against the sect include former cooks and drivers for the Jeffs family, as well as ex-wives and others close to the church’s leadership, according to FOX News. Their words are included in hundreds of pages of new court documents, shedding light on the secret world of the FLDS like never before.
According to the apostates, the structure of the FLDS now consists of elite church leaders and their chosen disciples at the top, followed by everyone else.
“There was so much class distinction and shunning of people,” said Allene Jeffs Steed, a former cook for the family of Bishop Lyle Jeffs. She described seeing shopping carts full of meat and turkeys designated for the bishop’s family while others were made to survive on rice and beans alone.
The church’s new structure was conceived of in a revelation Jeffs had in December 2011, about 4 months after he started serving his sentence.
He told his flock that God ordered him to create a United Order of members who were most worthy of gaining entrance to heaven. Shortly after this proclamation, Lyle Jeffs gathered FLDS members at the elementary school and questioned them about their lives and faith to determine who was worthy of the order. They were instructed to hand over everything they owned and told the church would provide all their earthly needs.
Steed told the FBI that while she prepared lobster and shrimp banquets for the bishop, her own children lived off toast. Prosecutors allege that food for the families of FLDS leaders was ordered separately from stores like Costco, while lower church members were left to shop at a warehouse of pooled resources called “the bishop’s storehouse.” In many cases, there wasn’t enough in the storehouse for everyone, and those at the bottom of the pecking order had to subsist on whatever was left over.
Fear of being harassed and cut off from their families have long silenced the FLDS apostates. Now, many church members are seizing their opportunity and leaving the sect in droves. In many cases, entire families are leaving the fold.
FLDS Leaders Predict Apocalypse
April 4, 2016 – This Wednesday, April 6, is the day both the FLDS and mainstream Mormon Church proclaim as the actual birthday of Jesus Christ, according to The Guardian.
“I am hearing from people inside the FLDS that on April 6 there is going to be a kind of apocalypse,” said Elissa Wall, a former FLDS church member who escaped after being forced by Warren Jeffs to marry her cousin when she was just 14. “It is prophesied.”
So far, however, the only signs of an impending rapture are a series of nearly simultaneous criminal and civil lawsuits filed against the sect, leading many to question whether this really is the beginning of the end for the FLDS. “I think it’s certainly the beginning of the end of the FLDS as we know it,” Wall said.
Lawsuit Accuses Mormon Church of Sexual Abuse on Navajo Children
March 25, 2016 – Two members of the Navajo Nation have filed a lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) alleging that it placed Native American children into Mormon foster homes where they were sexually abused.
The complaint was filed Tuesday by a brother and sister who claim that they and another sibling were abused in the Mormon Church’s “Indian Placement Program” or “Lamanite Placement Program” (LLP) in Utah between 1976 and 1983, according to FOX 13 News.
The brother, referred to in court documents as “RJ,” alleges he suffered abuse including fondling, sexual molestation and rape during his time in the program. According to allegations raised in the complaint, RJ was first placed in an LDS home in Oak City, UT. in 1978 at the age of 10, where he was sexually molested on several occasions by his stepbrother. RJ was taken out of the home after he disclosed the abuse and placed with another family in Utah, where he was again molested by an older foster-brother, according to the lawsuit. He claims to have reported the abuse to the church, but was sent back to live in the same home where the alleged crimes took place.
The sister plaintiff, “MM,” was placed in an LDS home in Utah in 1976, where she was allegedly raped by a friend of her 40-year-old stepbrother. Then in 1983, after being placed in another foster home, MM claims she was again sexually molested, this time by her foster-father.
The complaint alleges that the Mormon Church failed to take reasonable steps to protect the plaintiffs — even after multiple abuses were reported. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that LDS Church policies protect the institution and its leaders from culpability, ensuring that abuse is reported to authorities and guilty parties are prosecuted.
The suit notes an LDS policy which states that “To avoid implicating the Church in legal matters to which it is not a party, Church leaders should avoid testifying in civil or criminal cases or other proceedings involving abuse” (Handbook 1, Stake Presidents and Bishops 2010, section 17.3.2). Another policy encourages Mormon Church leaders to contact a bishop about abuse first instead of police, according to the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs request that the LDS create a policy to prohibit any contact between children and church leaders who have been accused and/or convicted of child abuse charges. Additionally, the lawsuit asks the church to change their policy of directing leaders not to testify in abuse cases.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for injuries caused to the plaintiffs, as well as a formal apology from the LDS for harms caused to the Navajo Nation, which plaintiffs allege was damaged by years of efforts to assimilate native children into Mormon culture.
The complaint was filed in Navajo Nation District Court, naming the following defendants: The Corporation of the President of the LDS Church, The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, LDS Family Services and LDS Church.
Jury Rules FLDS Leaders Violated Constitution, Discriminated Against Non-Believers
March 8, 2016 – A federal jury has ruled in favor of all 6 plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit against the FLDS-ruled towns of Colorado City and Hilldale, according to NBC News. The 2 cities, along with the Twin City Water Authority, were found guilty of violating the 4th & 14th Amendments, as well as “the establishment clause” of the 1st Amendment, which prohibits government from favoring one religion over another. City leaders were also found guilty of violating the Fair Housing Act.
Does Welfare Fraud Signal the End of FLDS?
March 2, 2016 – In the wake of 11 federal indictments of leading members of the FLDS, there has been some speculation that the end of the church is near. But according to Ed Kociela of the St. George News, the latest round of arrests is little more than another chapter in the FLDS’ sordid history.
“The church will continue in one form or another, even though its most recent leader, Lyle Jeffs, was one of those rounded up by the feds,” said Kociela. “My guess is that although its numbers may decrease a bit, the FLDS church will continue on and rebuild because there’s just too much money involved.”
In addition to the approximately $12 million in food-stamp fraud, Colorado City members of the FLDS hauled in $8 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds from July 2011 through February 2013, plus another $20 million in medical benefits during the same period, according to Mojave County Supervisor Buster Johnson. The church also has money coming in through a variety of businesses operating in the construction industry and, according to some, other darker involvements.
Do I have a Mormon Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?
The Sexual Abuse Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in FLDS lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently investigating potential settlements in all 50 states.
Again, if you or a loved one was sexually abused, molested or otherwise harmed by a member of the Mormon Church or FLDS, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a class action suit and our attorneys can help.