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Fugitive Polygamist Loses Support of Former Ally

Utah has been trying to strip authority from a Mormon sect leader accused of sex crimes.

June 17, 2005|From Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A former high-ranking member of a polygamous enclave in southern Utah said Thursday he is siding with the state in a battle to strip reclusive leader Warren Jeffs of authority over church assets.

Winston Blackmore said Jeffs took over the reins of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after Jeffs' now-deceased father suffered a debilitating stroke in 1998.

"From that time the whole feeling and vision of what we were doing changed as far as I'm concerned," said Blackmore, a former church trustee who now runs a Canadian offshoot of the church in British Columbia.

All the land in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., was at one time given to a trust and was intended to benefit all of the group's estimated 6,000 to 10,000 members. No monetary value has been assigned to the trust, although some estimate its value to be near $100 million.

Utah state Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff's office has sought to take control of the trust, arguing that Jeffs has liquidated assets to church insiders at below-market value -- to the detriment of lower-level members.

A grand jury in Arizona indicted Jeffs last week for sex crimes for allegedly arranging a marriage between a teenage girl and a 28-year-old man who already was married. Jeffs remains a fugitive and has not been seen in more than a year, authorities said.

Jeffs is no longer defending himself or the trust in lawsuits, and the state has alleged that he is selling off assets to keep them from being frozen.

Several parcels of land in southern Utah owned by the trust have been sold or transferred on paper into the hands of others over the last 10 months, court records show.

The court granted a temporary restraining order against six trustees May 27 to prevent them from selling church property. That same day, however, several buildings on trust-owned properties were disassembled and removed.

A judge on Thursday further restricted the trustees' ability to manage the trust by converting that order into a preliminary injunction. All six trustees must appear at a hearing on June 22 if they want to object to the attorney general's effort to have them permanently replaced.

The fundamentalist sect split from mainstream Mormonism after the broader church renounced polygamy more than a century ago. The fundamentalist group contends that men must have at least three wives to reach heaven.

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