2/24/11 – Jailed sect leader, Warren Jeffs, retakes legal control of church

USA Today
February 24, 2011
By Dennis Wagner

Jailed sect leader retakes legal control of church

PHOENIX — Warren Jeffs, the jailed “prophet” of a polygamist sect based in two towns on the Arizona-Utah line, has launched a purge of key followers and reassumed legal command over his church’s corporation.

But former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints don’t seem to agree on what it means for the embattled organization or for its 55-year-old spiritual leader, in jail since his arrest in 2006. He resigned the presidency a year later.

“It looks like Warren is taking power back,” said Carolyn Jessop, a former congregant who now lives in Salt Lake City and is still in contact with sect members. “It changes everything. He had indirect access before. Now, instead of people managing everything in the name of Warren, he’s managing in his own name.”

Flora Jessop, a former church member in Phoenix who is not related to Carolyn and who also keeps in touch with members, offered a contrary view: “Warren never let go of control of the church, so I don’t know why this is a big deal. He’s always been calling the shots. Warren has always been the prophet, and there can be only one prophet on Earth at a time.”

In a Feb. 10 declaration filed with the Utah Division of Corporations, Jeffs identified himself as the president and “sole” of the corporate arm of the FLDS sect, which is not affiliated with mainstream Mormonism.

His lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Jeffs is in jail in Texas, awaiting trial on charges of aggravated sexual assault and bigamy.

He was first charged more than five years ago, during a crackdown in Arizona and Utah on child marriages, fraud and police misconduct in the isolated twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, where the sect was dominant. FLDS doctrine holds plural marriage to be a sacred obligation.

In 2007, Jeffs was found guilty in Utah of rape as an accomplice. The conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Jeffs resigned as corporation president after his Utah conviction, and Wendell Nielson, a high-ranking church member, took his place. Utah records show Nielson formally quit that post Jan. 28.

Bruce Wisan, a Utah fiduciary overseeing a trust that contains an estimated $110 million in contested church assets, said he was told that Nielson is among about 30 members ousted from the sect by Jeffs in the past few months.

Wisan and Flora Jessop said others ousted include Colorado City Mayor Terrill Johnson and ex-Hildale Mayor David Zitting.

Zitting, reached by phone Wednesday, said he resigned as mayor last month. Asked if he had been excommunicated, he answered, “I’ve been told that, yes,” then declined further comment.

Carolyn Jessop said Jeffs’ incarceration restricted his ability to direct church members until late last year, when he seemed to gain extensive access to a telephone. Jeffs was extradited Dec. 1 from Utah to Texas.

“He’s been calling the church and talking directly to the congregation from prison, and giving sermons,” Jessop said.

She added that sources within the FLDS community told her in December that Jeffs directed all church members to confess their sins and ordered them to renew baptismal and marital vows.

“Then, in January, he began saying that he had a dream and it showed him there was a man trying to take over his position as prophet,” Jessop said. “It’s not about money with him; it’s about power and control.. .. Apparently, he told everybody they could not have sex anymore. .. until this is resolved.”

Wisan said it is unclear how the change of leadership in the church corporation and purge of members may affect civil litigation over land, businesses and homes that were owned by the church.

In: Cult News

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