Fundamentalists Say Law Firm Helped Mormon ‘Prophet’

     (CN) — Thirty former sect members sued fundamentalist Mormon “prophet” Warren Jeffs and a law firm, claiming they conspired to enforce underage marriages and child labor.
     Twenty-two adult plaintiffs and eight children, former followers of the imprisoned leader, sued Warren Steed Jeffs, attorney Rodney Parker and the Snow, Christensen & Martineau law firm, on July 13 in Federal Court.
     Lead plaintiff Alyssa Bistline et al. claim the defendants hatched a “complex and detailed scheme to manipulate the law,” at Jeffs’ behest.
     Snow, Christensen & Martineau vigorously denied the allegations in a statement.
     “None of our lawyers have ever been members of the FLDS Church, or espoused its beliefs or practices,” the law firm said Tuesday. “Our work in protecting religious liberties and other civil rights of the FLDS was not an endorsement of or complicity in illegal behavior. We are confident in our ability to defend against these meritless claims.”
     Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting two of his more than two dozen child brides. DNA at his trial showed he fathered a child upon one girl of 15. His other victim was 12 years old. He is serving a life sentence in Palestine, Texas.
     Jeffs was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in 2006, and has been arrested or charged in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah.
     The 121-page lawsuit accuses Jeffs of a litany of horrors, and claims he used attorneys to help: “In view of the growing threat of prosecution resulting from Utah’s increased stringency in the enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual violation of children, Jeffs sought legal advice from Parker and SC&M to find ways of tightening his control over the FLDS. Parker and SC&M contrived a complex and detailed scheme to manipulate the law in such a fashion to not only take advantage of the relatively lax marital laws of Nevada, but to create a new enterprise, under the guise of the existing FLDS Church, which would be legally structured to give Jeffs absolute control over all of the bodies, possessions, homes and funds of the FLDS as beneficiaries of the UEP [United Effort Plan] Trust.”
     Jeffs has been regularly involved in legal tangles since his incarceration.
     In 2013, Jeffs and his Fundamentalist Mormons sued a trust fiduciary, seeking to have an $8.8 million judgment against UEP Trust set aside, claiming it was “based upon false, incomplete, and misleading evidence.”
     In the new lawsuit, his former followers say Jeffs retained Snow, Christensen and Martineau as legal counsel in 1998.
     They claim the law firm backed Jeffs when he took over the UEP Trust, which holds property in the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, where a large contingent of fundamentalist Mormons live and work.
     “As he assumed the mantle of power that would later culminate in his self-avowed role as prophet, defendant Warren Steed Jeffs was committed to changing this state of affairs and was obsessed with the creation of a controlled society in which he was the absolute ruler and the wholesale rape of young girls by himself and others was treated as a ceremonially sacrosanct ritual,” the lengthy lawsuit states.
     It says that Jeffs “sought to institutionalize this atrocious practice and to cloak it with the superficial trappings of legal acceptance, so he retained SC&M [Snow, Christensen and Martineau] to develop an overarching scheme and plan, executed and developed by SC&M during period of years, to develop the legal framework within which Jeffs and his favored cohorts would possess means to enforce their lewd, sadistic, tortious and criminal wishes upon the FLDS people.”
     Followers who refused Jeffs’ demands were denied food and medical care, threatened with expulsion and forced from their homes, according to the complaint.
     “In order to secure the unwavering obedience of thousands of FLDS in the evolving program of forced labor, forced sexual servitude, extortionate taking of property and disintegration of family units (which was itself a key ingredient in the plan), Jeffs employed age-old control mechanisms that have, throughout history, proven to be key ingredients in the domination of entire populations and the infusion of cultural beliefs that result in the sublimation of individual morals and ethics and society-wide acceptance of monstrous and inhuman practices as ordered by an all-powerful tyrant operating under the guise of divine right,” the lawsuit states.
     Defendant Parker works as an attorney for Snow, Christensen & Martineau. The law firm’s attorney Brent Hatch did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.
     Allegations are aplenty in the 58,000-word lawsuit, including that Jeffs “taught the FLDS that unquestioned and strict blind obedience was better than religious faith,” and that the defendant law firm facilitated the “rape” of minors under the semblance of religion.
     “(I)t is manifest that Parker and SC&M were knowingly and actively involved in the use of the trust instrumentality they had created as a mechanism to facilitate the rape of young girls under the guise of religion,” the lawsuit states. “They were not only aware of the way in which their instrument was being used by the FLDS enterprise with which they were associated, but they also were the active participants in the use of that instrumentality to enforce the child rape directives of the prophet, defendant Jeffs.”
     The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for legal malpractice, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, sex trafficking, racketeering and breach of fiduciary duty.
     They are represented by Brett Godfrey with Godfrey Johnson of Denver and Matthew Grimmer of Lehi, Utah. Grimmer was out of the country Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
     The Department of Justice sued the border towns of Hildale and Colorado City in 2012, claiming they discriminated against people who do not belong to Jeffs’ church by denying them access to water, utilities and police protection.
     Top leaders and members of Jeffs’ sect, including two of his brothers, were arrested in February on federal charges of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and money laundering.
     Lyle Jeffs, an FLDS bishop, who was released from jail in June and placed on house arrest to await trial, used olive oil to slip his ankle bracelet off and escape from custody last week, the FBI said. He is a fugitive and the FBI said he is considered dangerous.

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