Warren Jeffs challenger stakes claim

Published: Thursday, April 28 2011 6:01 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A man vying with Warren Jeffs for leadership of a polygamous sect asserted his right to the position Thursday using statements made by Jeffs himself.

In the document filed with the Utah Division of Corporations and Commerce, William E. Jessop also cites intimidation tactics used by those close to Jeffs as a source of Jeffs' power. Jessop is in an ongoing dispute with Jeffs over who is the rightful president of the Utah-based Fundamental LDS Church.

"If members of the church act inconsistent with the instructions of Warren S. Jeffs, they are subject to being immediately cast out of the church, male members of the church who hold their priesthood may have their priesthood removed, and non-compliant members may be evicted from their homes and have their belongings removed," Jessop wrote.

Jessop, who said he has served as the bishop of the FLDS Church since 2004, said his recent attempt to assume the presidency fulfills a 2007 directive from Jeffs himself.

He quotes numerous conversations he has had with Jeffs, who was then incarcerated, in which Jeffs told Jessop he was to be the "key holder" or leader of the church.

"I (Jeffs) am not the prophet," Jessop quotes Jeffs as saying. "I was never the prophet. And I have been deceived by the powers of evil. And brother William E. Jessop has been the prophet, since father passed — since the passing of my father."

He states that Jeffs also told him that he was "immoral" and therefore unworthy to hold the keys of a president of the FLDS Church.

The presidency of the church corporation has been in question since Jeffs — who is currently in jail in Texas where he is facing charges of bigamy and sexual assault of a minor — recently tried to formally reclaim the post.

Jeffs, 55, had been the president and ecclesiastical head of the church since 2002, but there was some question as to whether he had temporarily turned the position over to Jessop after Jeffs was convicted of rape as an accomplice in Utah in 2007.

Jeffs told his family and other church leaders that Jessop was the new leader, but Jessop never took the position and the whole incident was later characterized as a test for the FLDS faithful.

Jessop wrote that many church members have limited access to the Internet in an effort to keep them from hearing or seeing the recordings of Jeffs which were made public at the time.

In February 2010, Wendell Loy Nielsen was named president of the church in documents filed with the Utah Department of Commerce. Nielsen resigned in January and Jeffs was reinstated to the position as president. In March, Jessop then filed to take over the church presidency from Jeffs. Just days later, Jeffs loyalist Boyd Knudsen responded with a counter-filing saying Jessop never had authority to assume the role.

In a second set of affidavits, Knudsen claimed some 4,000 members had unanimously voted to support Jeffs' presidency. The papers also say the same group renounced Jessop as "not a part of said church."

Jessop questioned the legitimacy of this meeting in the Thursday filing, saying that "never in my lifetime" had he heard of such an assembly being called to sustain a leader.

The Utah Department of Commerce placed an administrative hold on the two legal entities that make up the FLDS Church. It is in place until May 2.

Email: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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