The Texas attorney general's office is pursuing legal action to seize the West Texas ranch owned by the polygamist sect led by Warren Jeffs, who is serving life in prison for sexually assaulting young girls.
State child welfare workers raided the Yearning For Zion, or YFZ, ranch in Eldorado in 2008, taking 400 children into custody over allegations that they were being sexually abused and forced into underage marriages. After lengthy court battles, the children were eventually returned to their parents, but nine men were ultimately convicted of crimes including sexual assault and bigamy. One of them was Jeffs, who was in prison in Arizona at the time of the raid, and was eventually extradited to Texas from a Utah prison.
Jeffs founded the West Texas ranch in 2004 for his most fervent adherents, who built a sacred temple, communal residences, factories and working farms on the ranch. State authorities notified him — and served papers at the gate of the West Texas ranch — ahead of Wednesday's announcement.
By state law, Texas authorities can seek to seize property used to "commit or facilitate" certain crimes, though there must be a court hearing. (Such a hearing in this case probably won't be scheduled before the end of the year.) It's unclear how many people are still living on the ranch; no one could be forcibly removed from the property until after a court rules.
The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.
The AG's court filing suggests that the sect — the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — "structured financial transactions to evade law enforcement oversight." It alleges that the purchase of the ranch, and the construction of its enormous buildings, "were financed with the proceeds of illegal money laundering" — and that the ranch was used to "illegally harbor Jeffs" when he was a fugitive on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.