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Texas seizes FLDS Church's secluded ranch

Published: Saturday, Sept. 5 2015 11:09 a.m. MDT

A new home being built April 12, 2008, on the Yearning For Zion ranch, a polygamous community near Eldorado,Texas. On Thursday, the state took possession of the ranch, which had mostly been abandoned. (Keith Johnson, Deseret News) A new home being built April 12, 2008, on the Yearning For Zion ranch, a polygamous community near Eldorado,Texas. On Thursday, the state took possession of the ranch, which had mostly been abandoned. (Keith Johnson, Deseret News)

ELDORADO, Texas — The secluded Texas ranch where followers of imprisoned polygamist Warren Jeffs lived in near isolation was seized by state agents on Thursday, nearly six years after FBI agents raided the property and removed hundreds of children amid child sex abuse allegations.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said its agents took possession of the Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado. In a statement, DPS said only eight adults were still living on the West Texas property and agreed to leave after meeting with agents. DPS said authorities helped them vacate the ranch and take an inventory.

Jeffs is serving life in prison after being convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting two girls he took as child brides. The ranch was owned by his Utah-based Fundamentalist LDS Church, whose roughly 10,000 followers believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. They see Jeffs as God's spokesman on earth.

From the highest point on the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, Edson Jessop holds his 4-year old daughter Anne on Aug. 23, 2008, months after the ranch was raided by Texas authorities. On Thursday, the state took possession of the ranch, which had mostly been abandoned. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) From the highest point on the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, Edson Jessop holds his 4-year old daughter Anne on Aug. 23, 2008, months after the ranch was raided by Texas authorities. On Thursday, the state took possession of the ranch, which had mostly been abandoned. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

The state asked a judge to allow the forfeiture, alleging that FLDS leaders financed a $1.1 million purchase of the land in 2003 through money laundering. It also cited sexual assaults committed on the property. Under Texas law, authorities can seize property that was used to commit or facilitate certain criminal conduct. A judge granted the state's request in January.

The FBI and police stormed the compound in April 2008, amid allegations that underage girls were being forced into bigamist marriages. In addition to temporarily taking the 439 children into protective custody, authorities seized mountains of documents, including Jeffs' personal journals. Images of church women in prairie dress and men in largely identical, long sleeve shirts flooded national TV airwaves.

All of the children were eventually returned. But about a dozen men, including Jeffs and other high-ranking FLDS leaders, were arrested on charges of sexual assault or bigamy and later convicted.

Construction surrounds the FLDS Church's temple on the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, in 2007. (JD Doyle) Construction surrounds the FLDS Church's temple on the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, in 2007. (JD Doyle)

During Jeffs' trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show he fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. They also played tapes in which Jeffs was heard instructing young women on how to sexually please him and, thus, please God.

Jeffs also once faced criminal charges in Arizona and was convicted of accessory to rape in Utah in 2007. The church's traditional headquarters is along the Utah-Arizona border, but it established the Texas compound in 2004.

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