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, of sexually assaulting him when he was a child and calling it
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
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.
law, child sexual assault victims have until age 22 to bring a civil
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
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff
has said his office will investigate any allegations of wrongdoing in
the community, and will look into Brent Jeffs'
"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
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
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
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
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.