Legal War Waging Against Fundamentalist Mormon Towns

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) — A former bodyguard of imprisoned sect leader Warren Jeffs claims in federal court that twin towns on the Arizona-Utah border harassed and threatened him, took his property and ruined his business after he left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

William Jessop sued Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, on Monday, on three counts of discrimination and civil rights violations.

The twin towns have long been havens for FLDS members, a polygamous sect whose leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence plus 20 years in Texas for sexually assaulting two girls he claimed were his “spiritual wives.” He is said to still head the sect from prison.

Jessop, Jeffs’ onetime bodyguard and a former FLDS spokesman, claims he was “harassed, threatened, and deprived of his property” by the towns’ police and officials, preventing him from operating non-party R&W Excavating and suffering “substantial” business losses.

The towns’ marshal’s office, which “served as an enforcement arm for the FLDS church,” targeted Jessop and others defectors, the 9-page lawsuit states, “because he left and was no longer a member” of the sect.

Jessop says police threatened to arrest him on multiple occasions, stole his car, threatened his wife, and issued a false citation charging him with possession of stolen property, then altered official documents to cover up what they had done.

Among many items stolen from him were business computers, records and files, he says in the complaint.

“Without these items Jessop has been unable to restart the R&W business, and this business has been, as a result, permanently and irreparably damaged,” the lawsuit states.

In a 2012 lawsuit, the Department of Justice claimed the fundamentalist sect controlled the twin cities’ police force and ostracized nonmembers. After lengthy discovery proceedings, the Department of Justice in 2015 added that police had altered official reports and destroyed dispatch recordings.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah in 2007 of two counts of first-degree felony rape for his role in the 2001 wedding of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin. Those convictions were reversed on the basis of erroneous jury instructions. He was extradited to Texas, however, where he was convicted of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of children at an FLDS ranch there. Those convictions led to his life sentence plus 20 years.

Jessop separately sued Jeffs for a $2.4 million judgment for the burglary-related business losses, in 2014.

According to that lawsuit, Jeffs, his brother Lyle Jeffs, brother-in-law John Wayman and NewEra Manufacturing owed $2.4 million for a judgment related to a break-in at R&W.

Jessop said several people stole computers, hard drives, court files and personal items from the Hildale-area business and ranch in 2012. As a result, he said, plus mass resignations after sect leaders threatened to excommunicate employees from the FLDS church if they didn’t quit, the company was crippled.

Jessop filed another lawsuit for $57 million in Utah state court in 2012, claiming church leaders harassed his family, kept them under 24-hour surveillance and expelled his children from FLDS schools after he had a falling out with Jeffs.

He won the lawsuit by default, and was granted a $30 million judgment, after Lyle Jeffs and Wayman failed to respond to a court summons.

The United Effort Plan, a financial arm of the FLDS, owns a bulk of property in Hildale, pop. 2,726, and Colorado City, pop. 4,821. The trust was taken over by a judge in 2005, following allegations that Jeffs and other top leaders mismanaged it.

Calls for comment were not returned Tuesday.

Jessop seeks compensatory and statutory damages discrimination, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and costs of suit.

He is represented by Andrew Deis of Salt Lake City.