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Polygamist Leader Accused of Dodging Debts

ST. GEORGE, Utah (CN) - The former bodyguard of imprisoned polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs claims the self-professed prophet and others hid behind water companies to duck $38 million in debts.

Willie Jessop, R&W Excavating and Boulder Mountain Group sued Twin City Water Works, Colorado City Improvement Association, Warren and Lyle Jeffs, John Wayman, and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Washington County Court.

According to court documents, several people allegedly broke in and stole computers, hard drives, court files and personal items from R&W Excavating in 2012.

The company then saw mass resignations after sect leaders allegedly threatened to excommunicate employees belonging to the FLDS church if they didn't quit and the business was crippled, Jessop claimed.

Jessop sued the defendants 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.

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

Prior to and since entry of that judgment and a separate $8.5 million award, however, the polygamous sect and its leaders have allegedly hidden and transferred assets to avoid the hefty debts, Jessop and the other plaintiffs claim.

"The individual defendants have used and attempted to use Twin City Water Works and the Improvement Association as a way to improperly shield and protect assets from being executed upon by plaintiffs," the complaint, filed Tuesday, states.

"Invoking the name of God and preying on the faith of the people they purport to lead and represent, the individual defendants have engaged in multiple wrongful and often illegal acts," the 8-page complaint adds.

The water works and improvement association are based in Hildale, on the Utah-Arizona border.

"There is such a unity of interests between the FLDS Church and the FLDS leaders on the one hand, and Twin City Water Works, Improvement Association and the other Doe defendants on the other hand, such that the separate personalities and existences of Twin City Water Works and the Improvement Association no longer exists," the complaint states.

The lawsuit follows separate recent filings against the water works, also in Washington County.

Utah claimed the polygamous sect drained $1.7 million from the water works, using it as a slush fund to buy cars and insurance and pay bills for sect members. The state asked a court to dissolve the water company in March.

The United Effort Plan Trust separately sued Twin City days earlier, claiming managers were "completely unaware" of how the company was run. That suit seeks injunctions requiring the water works to pay "reasonable compensation" for groundwater.

Utah took over the $110 million UEP Trust in 2005, amid underage rape charges against the now-incarcerated Jeffs.

Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., have long been havens for FLDS members, a polygamous breakaway sect.

In 2012, the Justice Department claimed the sect controlled the twin cities' police force and ostracized nonmembers. More recently, the DOJ added that police altered official reports and destroyed dispatch recordings.

Jeffs, 59, 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. The convictions were reversed on the basis of erroneous jury instructions.

Jeffs received 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 polygamous sect from prison.

Jessop, an FLDS spokesman, separately sued Jeffs over the judgment for burglary-related business losses, in 2014.

Jessop also reportedly purchased a compound built for Warren Jeffs at auction in 2013, and turned it into a hotel called America's Most Wanted Bed & Breakfast.

Calls for comment were not returned by press time.

The plaintiffs demand the water works and improvement association be declared alter egos of the polygamous sect and its leaders, holding the parties liable for the judgments entered.

They are represented by Mark James with Hatch, James & Dodge of Salt Lake City.

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