Ex-FLDS bodyguard Willie Jessop wins case by default

Published: Saturday, June 9 2012 3:58 p.m. MDT

Willie Jessop talks to the media outside the Schleicher County Memorial Buildingin El Dorado, Texas, July 22, 2008.

Pat Reavy, Deseret News

ST. GEORGE, Utah — A former bodyguard and spokesman for imprisoned polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs has won a multimillion-dollar judgment stemming from his lawsuit against church leaders.

William "Willie" Jessop, in his 5th District Court suit filed in February, claims leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ruined his business and harassed his family after he had a falling-out with Jeffs. He seeks more than $57 million in damages and $25 million in punitive damages.

The complaint names imprisoned sect leader Jeffs, his brother Lyle Jeffs, his brother-in-law John Wayman and two dozen other people or organizations who allegedly worked to arrange a burglary at Jessop's Hildale-area excavation business and ranch. The suit also claims church leaders have harassed his family and kept them under 24-hour surveillance, and expelled his children from FLDS schools.

Monday's ruling by Judge G. Rand Beacham found two of the defendants, Lyle Jeffs and Wayman, liable for some damages because they failed to respond to a court summons and therefore lost the case by default, The Spectrum of St. George reported.

Attorney Mark James, who represents Jessop and his R&W Excavation Inc. and Boulder Mountain Group Ranch companies, said the judgment allows him to pursue the collection from the two of nearly $30 million specifically addressed by the court.

He said he may try to force Lyle Jeffs and Wayman to testify about their assets. The judgment against the two awards $26 million to R&W Excavation, more than $1 million to Boulder Mountain Group Ranch and more than $2.4 to Jessop as an individual.

"There is a gap between having a judgment and having the money in hand. We have to collect," James told The Spectrum.

Beacham's judgment notes that a ruling on punitive damages will not be made until a hearing on the evidence can be held. No date for a new hearing has been set.

James said Warren Jeffs and other defendants named in the suit — an FLDS business entity named NewEra Manufacturing Inc. and numerous John Does who allegedly took part in acts against Jessop's family under FLDS leaders' direction — have not yet been served with a court summons.

"We're trying to do this in an orderly fashion," he said, adding he expects Warren Jeffs to be served in the near future.

Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison after being found guilty last year of child sexual assault.

The suit states Jessop had supported Warren Jeffs until he became convinced of claims that Jeffs was having affairs with other men's wives, and had renounced his role as the faith's prophet.

Jessop was expelled from the church and ordered to leave his home and family in 2011. According to the suit, that was because he had refused to file a false letter defending Jeffs against allegations he trafficked and married 12- and 13-year-old girls from an FLDS settlement in Canada.

Jessop says when he refused to say his expulsion from the church was the will of God, FLDS leaders raided his R&W Excavating and removed computers and other electronic devices.

"Records of job costing, site plans, scope of work descriptions, invoicing, receivables and payables were lost," the suit states. "Virtually all information relating to R&W's long-term and day-to-day operations was stolen, directly and foreseeably resulting in the shut-down and demise of R&W."

Jessop said the business was also crippled by a mass employee exodus after FLDS leaders told workers they would be excommunicated from the church if they kept their jobs.

The church is based on the Utah-Arizona line.

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