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New FLDS commerce filings support Warren Jeffs presidency

Published: Friday, April 22 2011 12:25 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Loyalists who support jailed polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs continue to file papers with Utah's Commerce Department claiming he is still in charge of the church.

An April 11 filing claims more than 2,000 church men — referred to as "Priesthood bearers" in the documents — unanimously swore their allegiance to Jeffs at an April 10 church meeting.

The presidency of the corporation that is the Fundamentalist LDS Church has been in dispute since March when Jeffs rival William E. Jessop tried to execute a takeover. Days later, a subsequent filing removed Jessop and reinstated Jeffs.

Commerce officials have since halted the tug of war and set a May 2 deadline for the parties to resolve the dispute. A judge may ultimately decide the issue. Should the May deadline pass without a clear resolution or a judge's order, the state would recognize those church principals in place prior to Jessop's filing, commerce department spokeswoman Jennifer Bolton has said.

It's not clear how the sides might resolve the dispute. Neither has yet asked the courts to address the issue.

A message left for church spokesman Willie Jessop, who is not related to William E. Jessop, was not immediately returned Friday and FLDS attorney Rod Parker declined to comment.

The most recent documents filed by the church's registered agent Boyd Knudsen is supported by affidavits from four other church leaders, including Jeffs' brother, Lyle Jeffs, who is identified as a special counselor to the president and a church bishop.

The others are church patriarch Vaughan E. Taylor and bishop's counselors John M. Barlow and Ray M. Barlow.

Each of the affidavits states that Warren Jeffs is recognized by the southern Utah-based faith's 10,000 members as president and presiding bishop. William E. Jessop is not a member of the church, the affidavits state.

Earlier filings claimed that 4,000 church members had also sustained a Jeffs presidency at an April 3 church meeting referred to as a "general assembly."

Jeffs, 55, has led the church since 2002 after the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs. Church members consider the church president a prophet who communicates with God to direct the affairs of the church and guide the spiritual lives of members.

Jailed since 2006, Jeffs is currently in Texas awaiting two trials on charges of bigamy and aggravated sexual assault. Prosecutors allege Jeffs had sex with two girls, one under age 14 and one under age 17. A court has entered not guilty pleas on Jeffs' behalf.

William Jessop is former bishop of the FLDS border towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., and has said his attempt to assume the presidency fulfills a 2007 directive from Jeffs in a 2007 telephone call made from a Utah jail.

"I know of your ordination, that you are the key holder, and I have sent a note with my signature so that there is no question," Jeffs told Jessop in the Jan. 24, 2007, telephone call.

Jeffs told his family and other church leaders the same thing in other calls made at the same time. Recordings of the calls were released by the Utah courts as part of Jeffs' case.

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