The West Texas judge who presided over the criminal cases involving a polygamist sect has ordered the group to forfeit its West Texas ranch to the state.
State District Judge Barbara Walther’s order came Monday in Eldorado after no one representing the owner of Yearning for Zion Ranch appeared for a hearing, which was a civil, not criminal, matter.
The San Angelo Standard-Times reported that Walther authorized the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Department to enter the YFZ ranch and inventory the property.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints owned the ranch under the name United Order of Texas. The Texas attorney general’s office filed to seize the ranch in 2012, citing sexual assaults of children committed there and accusing sect leaders of financing the purchase of the remote property through illegal money laundering.
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The state prosecuted 12 men in the sect, including leader Warren Jeffs.
Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office has not charged any members of the sect with any financial crimes.
The sect bought the secluded property in Schleicher County for about $1.1 million in 2003, according to the 2012 filing by Abbott’s office. The current value of the ranch was not reported Monday.
Online records of the Schleicher County Appraisal District indicate a dozen pieces of property at the ranch’s address with the owner United Order of Texas totaling 1,691 acres. Combined, the appraised value of the properties in 2012 was $33.4 million.
Starting with a raid on the ranch in April 2008 during which child welfare authorities took 439 children into custody, the state spent more than $4.5 million pursuing cases against Jeffs and 11 followers.
Jeffs was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he described as “spiritual wives.” At trial, prosecutors presented DNA evidence to show he fathered a child with one girl when she was 15.
Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a prison in Palestine. He has continued to try to lead his 10,000 followers from behind bars.
It’s not known how many people still live in the compound about 200 miles west of San Antonio, but the seizure warrant does not require them to leave.
The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism. Its members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.
This includes material from Star-Telegram archives.