Approximately 439 children were removed from the ranch in April of 2008 when social workers and police responded to a call from someone claiming to be a pregnant 16-year-old in an abusive, polygamous marriage to an older man. Texas officials alleged a pattern of abuse at the ranch with girls groomed to be child brides and boys growing up to be sexual perpetrators.
The children were returned to their families two months later when an Austin appeals court and the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state acted improperly, and that the children were not at immediate risk of abuse. The phone call that sparked the raid was believed to be a hoax.
Texas has spent more than $4.5 million in prosecuting the cases against Jeffs and 10 of his followers following the raids. Jeffs was convicted of sexually assaulting two minors whom he took as spiritual brides.
Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the new warrant begins the final chapter in the state's five-year-old case against Jeffs.
"This is simply the next step," Strickland told the Associated Press.
He said it was too early to speculate about what the state would do with the property if given ownership. The group will have a chance to contest any seizure and has 20 days to respond to the warrant before the case moves into the courts.
Sam Brower, an author and private investigator who has looked into the FLDS' dealings for years, called the warrant "validating."
"The FLDS is a criminal organization. And they've finally taken steps to show that and seize the YFZ Ranch," he said.
Brower believes the remaining members of the FLDS Church at the ranch are already in a "heightened state of paranoia" because of recent commandments from Jeffs, who reportedly continues to lead his followers — estimated at 10,000 — from behind bars. Brower predicts that ranch members will just walk away from the compound.
"I think this is probably going go be taken as part of (Jeffs') prophecy that the end is at hand. They'll take that to heart and just leave," he said.
But Brower is also worried that it could turn into something worse.
"When you have a mad man sitting in a Texas prison cell with nothing to lose whose giving these crazy, bizarre end of the world predictions, and ordering his people to do crazy things, it's worrisome," he said.
Mankin said he had noticed a decrease of activity at the ranch recently, but nothing that would raise red flags. He conceded, however, that tensions may start to rise again by the time it reaches the court stage.
"The one thing we've come to expect from Warren Jeffs, is expect the unexpected."
Contributing: John Hollenhorst
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