Polygamists accused of rape

Leader, elders of sect call lawsuit a vengeful attack on church

08:21 PM CDT on Friday, July 30, 2004

By KAREN BROOKS / The Dallas Morning News

The leader and two elders of a religious polygamist sect building a compound in West Texas face accusations of repeatedly raping a young boy in the 1980s, telling him they were "doing God's work" in teaching him to become a man and it was God's will that he keep quiet about it.

Attorneys for church leader Warren Jeffs and his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, based on the Utah-Arizona border, say the lawsuit is a vengeful attack by enemies of Mr. Jeffs and the church.

The church and Mr. Jeffs "deny in the strongest possible terms the allegations" by Mr. Jeffs' nephew, Salt Lake City attorney Rodney Parker said. "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 FLDS group split from the Mormon church more than a century ago after the Mormons denounced polygamy as part of their religious doctrine. Today, Mr. Jeffs leads the nation's largest settlement of practicing polygamists in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

The sect believes that having multiple wives assigned by the church leader is the only way to get to the "Celestial Kingdom," Heaven's holiest plane.

The suit accuses Mr. Jeffs, his brothers Leslie and Blaine Jeffs, and the church of systematic abuse of children, cover-ups, and shirking their duty to tell authorities.

Brent Jeffs, 21, of Salt Lake City, says in the suit that he was 5 and 6 years old when the men abused him for two years in the basement bathroom of the church-run Alta Academy near Salt Lake City while Sunday services were going on upstairs.

The suit said the men would make him get undressed, tell him that "it was God's will that he submit" to them, and then sodomize him.

The nephew alleges he was threatened with "eternal damnation" if he reported the abuses.

He came forward after his brother committed suicide two years ago, the suit says, and hopes to "see civil justice punish and make an example of the defendants by sending the unmistakable message that these forms of abuse are not 'religious' and must be ended immediately."

Warren Jeffs has been under intense scrutiny by the attorneys general of Arizona and Utah as a growing number of ex-believers accuse him of crimes ranging from fraud to forcing young girls into marriage.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is supporting a foundation to help some 400 boys and young men who have allegedly been kicked out of the community in the last two years.

Authorities have never filed criminal charges against the 49-year-old man known by believers as "The Prophet." But the mounting pressure led Warren Jeffs to build a remote retreat in Texas on 1,600 acres of ranchland hidden by surrounding hills outside Eldorado, a town of 1,951 south of San Angelo.

The group bought the land last year. It angered locals by saying that it was a hunting retreat and later admitting it was worried about the town's reaction.

Since at least March, several buildings, including multifamily homes and a meeting hall, have sprung up on the land. Only a few local officials have been allowed inside. Church leaders say no more than 200 people would stay on the ranch, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said.

Regarding the suit, Sheriff Doran said, "until they break the law, there's nothing to get excited about on our part."

The suit was filed Thursday in Salt Lake City by Joanne Suder, who has represented abuse victims in suits against Catholic priests and the churches that protect them. Fort Worth attorney John Jose is co-counsel.

The suit also seeks a temporary restraining order to keep the church and its private trust, United Effort Plan, from dissolving its millions of dollars in assets.

E-mail kmbrooks@dallasnew