FLDS leader invokes 5th in deposition

He pleads it more than 250 times, court transcript says

By Paul Anthony

San Angelo Standard-Times

Published: Thursday, Jan. 29 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Citing federal conspiracy and Mann Act investigations, YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination last week more than 250 times, according to a deposition transcript obtained Wednesday.

Jessop, a top leader of the Fundamentalist LDS Church that runs the ranch, invoked the Fifth Amendment 267 times Friday on questions as minor as whether he drives a car and as significant as whether his now-14-year-old daughter was involved in a sexual relationship with sect leader Warren Jeffs.

"Upon the advice of counsel, he's exerting his Fifth Amendment (rights)," Jessop's attorney, Amy Hennington, said early in the all-day Friday deposition, taken in the course of a custody case involving a girl alleged to be his daughter-in-law. "The basis is that there is potential state investigation still ongoing, as well as criminal investigations under the Mann Act out of the U.S. Attorney's Office."

The Mann Act prohibits the transportation of people across state lines for the purpose of sexual activity.

In a telephone hearing with 51st District Judge Barbara Walther over Jessop's refusal to answer questions early in the proceeding, Hennington told the judge she had concerns about an ongoing federal investigation into alleged FLDS violations of the Mann Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO.

RICO can be used to prosecute organized crime, as well as wire and mail fraud.

The plethora of Fifth pleadings was the focus of a lengthy hearing Monday that stretched into the night, as Jessop and sect spokesman Willie Jessop, who was deposed Monday morning, took the stand to explain why they had refused to answer the vast majority of the questions asked of them by Denton family law attorney Natalie Malonis.

Malonis has said she seeks information about the sect's finances in the hopes of providing financial means for her 17-year-old client, a daughter of Jeffs who sect documents say was married at age 15 to Raymond Jessop, Merril Jessop's then-36-year-old son.

Jessop pleaded the Fifth to questions involving the girl — including whether she has a baby with his son — and also refused to answer questions about his daughter who sect documents describe as being married to Jeffs at age 12, and who photos released in previous hearings show kissing the sect leader deeply shortly after their alleged marriage.

Malonis also had asked whether Jessop knew if his daughter had a sexual relationship with Jeffs or a child.

"If they are true Fifth Amendment invocations, the implication is that the young ladies have children," Malonis said Wednesday. "That's the inference to be drawn. If the answer is, 'No,' or, 'I don't know,' I don't know why he wouldn't say that."

Hennington declined to comment on the deposition.

In the Monday hearing, Walther did not rule directly on Jessop's assertions, instead saying she would issue a written order, which has not yet been made, a court clerk said.

Jessop also refused to answer all questions relating to the sect's finances — including those apparently based on sect documents referring to efforts to create a trust in Texas with funds taken from the Utah-based United Effort Plan trust.

The Utah trust has been taken over by the courts after allegations that FLDS leaders were diverting funds for unauthorized uses, such as building the 1,700-acre Schleicher County ranch that authorities raided in early April.

Citing what she said was a dictation from Jeffs to Jessop concerning the type of food allowed in a particular residence, Malonis jumped into a line of questioning aimed at determining whether her client will be free to make her own choices when she turns 18 in July.

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