The Salt Lake Tribune
July 30, 2004
Leader of FLDS named in abuse suit
Allegations: The polygamous church president, two others are accused of sexual assault
By Pamela Manson
A former member of a polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border on Thursday accused three of his uncles, one of them the faith's leader,
In a lawsuit, Brent Jeffs claims that the trio of leaders in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) - president Warren Steed Jeffs, considered by his followers to be their prophet, and his brothers, Blaine Balmforth Jeffs and Leslie Balmforth Jeffs - described the abuse as a way to make him a man.
"Those defendants explained to plaintiff that it was 'God's will' that he never disclose the abuses to anyone, and if he did, it would be upon pain of eternal damnation," Brent Jeffs, 21, said in his suit, filed in Utah's 3rd District Court. "Thus, for many years, the frightened child remained silent."
But Brent Jeffs said his brother's suicide two years ago prompted him to finally break his silence. His suit, which claims FLDS leaders knew of the "perversity and sexually predatory acts" but did nothing to stop them, gives no details about the death.
Under Utah law, child sexual assault victims have until age 22 to bring a civil suit.
Rodney Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney for the church, said all of Jeffs' charges are false.
"The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its President Warren S. Jeffs deny in the strongest possible terms the allegations made by Mr. Brent Jeffs," Parker said in a written statement. "The church and President Jeffs believe that the filing of this action is part of a continuing effort by enemies of the church to defame it and its institutions. President Jeffs is confident that ultimately these allegations will be shown to be total fabrications."
The uncles could not be reached for comment. Warren Jeffs, who lives in a walled compound in Hildale, Utah, with an estimated 40 wives and about 56 children, never has given an interview to the news media, according to Parker.
The suit could erode the secrecy that has surrounded Warren Jeffs' two-year tenure as president of the FLDS Church, based in the twin cities of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz. Most of the approximately 10,000 residents embrace plural marriage as a central tenet of their faith.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said his office will investigate any allegations of wrongdoing in the community, and will look into Brent Jeffs' claims.
"We're interested in following up on whether there are potential criminal charges," he said Thursday.
Flora Jessop, an anti-polygamy activist who fled the FLDS community as a teenager and has helped others leave, applauded the suit.
"I'm hoping, with what Brent has had the courage to do, it will bring more victims forward to stop the cycle," said Jessop, of Phoenix, who works with the St. George-based Hope for the Child Brides. "Our complete support is with Brent and his family, and we just pray that he can heal from it and live a normal, healthy life."
Brent Jeffs alleges the sexual abuse occurred in the 1980s at Alta Academy, the church's now-closed private school in the Salt Lake Valley, where Warren Jeffs was principal. He said that when he was 5 and 6 years old, his uncles repeatedly took him from his Sunday school class to a bathroom and sodomized him.
The abuse hurt him emotionally and physically, Jeffs said in his suit, which accuses the defendants of child sexual abuse, battery, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud and conspiracy.
Jeffs is seeking unspecified damages and reimbursement of all money he and his parents paid into the United Effort Plan, the FLDS Church's trust. His attorneys are requesting a temporary restraining order barring the church from disposing of any assets while the suit is pending.
Warren Jeffs is said to expect absolute obedience from his followers, and in the past year has been banishing FLDS members in groups and individually for undisclosed sins, telling them to leave their homes and families behind and repent from afar. One was Blaine Jeffs, according to the lawsuit.
The banishments and other episodes have put a spotlight on the isolated community on the Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon.
Utah and Arizona had announced a crackdown on crimes said to be occurring under the aegis of polygamy, including forced marriages of underage girls. Sheriff patrols have been increased in the twin cites and plans have been drawn up for a Colorado City office of social service and law enforcement agencies.
Many of those who have left the community have speculated that Warren Jeffs was planning to take a select group of followers to Mexico. Earlier this year, the FLDS Church established itself on a 1,371-acre ranch near the West Texas town of Eldorado, about 150 miles from the Mexico border.
The new landowner, YFZ Land, has ties to the church: The businessman listed as its principal manager, David S. Allred, is a close associate of Jeffs and related to him by marriage. The buildings going up resemble Hildale-Colorado City structures and the people already living there wear the traditional dress of FLDS members.
Some residents of Eldorado, population 2,000, have said they worry about the burden on services and fear a political takeover in the next election. So far, though, no major problems have been reported.