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Texas AG seeks seizure of polygamist Jeffs' ranch

The Texas attorney general's office is pursuing legal action to seize the West Texas ranch owned by the polygamist sect led by Warren Jeffs, who is serving life in prison for sexually assaulting young girls.  

State child welfare workers raided the Yearning For Zion, or YFZ, ranch in Eldorado in 2008, taking 400 children into custody over allegations that they were being sexually abused and forced into underage marriages. After lengthy court battles, the children were eventually returned to their parents, but nine men were ultimately convicted of crimes including sexual assault and bigamy. One of them was Jeffs, who was in prison in Arizona at the time of the raid, and was eventually extradited to Texas from a Utah prison.

Jeffs founded the West Texas ranch in 2004 for his most fervent adherents, who built a sacred temple, communal residences, factories and working farms on the ranch. State authorities notified him — and served papers at the gate of the West Texas ranch — ahead of Wednesday's announcement. 

By state law, Texas authorities can seek to seize property used to "commit or facilitate" certain crimes, though there must be a court hearing. (Such a hearing in this case probably won't be scheduled before the end of the year.) It's unclear how many people are still living on the ranch; no one could be forcibly removed from the property until after a court rules. 

The AG's court filing suggests that the sect — the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — "structured financial transactions to evade law enforcement oversight." It alleges that the purchase of the ranch, and the construction of its enormous buildings, "were financed with the proceeds of illegal money laundering" — and that the ranch was used to "illegally harbor Jeffs" when he was a fugitive on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List. 

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Nov 28, 2012, 10:28 pm
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The eyes of Texas are upon him. Good for authorities in the Lone Star State for going after the property where Warren Jeffs and his followers thought they could get away with sexually abusing little girls and committing welfare fraud by hiding out n this remote area of Texas. Maybe now people will realize that the Mormon fundamentalist cult that Jeffs still rules from his Texas prison cell is nothing like the family we see on TV in the reality show “Sister Wives” or “Big Love.” Instead, it is a corrupt, perverted culture, as described in the book ‘plygs,’ that preys upon children—boys and girls—strips women of their rights and cheats the government out of millions of dollars of welfare benefits. Of course, this will probably be a long, drawn-put court procedure, much like what happened in Utah when FLDS property in Hildale was put under the control of a state-appointed fiduciary. But, it is still a step in the right direction.

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Bob Daemmerich/Texas Tribune

FLDS members arriving at the Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas, for the first day of court hearings on the custody of the hundreds of children taken by the state of Texas from the compound in 2008.

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