ST. GEORGE – Two parcels of land formerly owned by imprisoned polygamous leader Warren Jeffs sold at auction for $3.6 million Thursday morning. The properties, consisting of a large walled-off compound and an elementary school, both in Hildale, were bought by Jeffs’ ex-bodyguard Willie Jessop.
The property was being sold off in order to pay out a nearly $30 million judgment Jessop won against leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jessop said he was excommunicated from the FLDS church and his business, R&W Excavating, was near-destroyed by leaders of the church due to his dissent toward Jeffs after learning of the cases of child sexual abuse taking place at the church’s Yearning For Zion ranch in Texas.
Jessop was one of many former FLDS members who attended the auction held outside of the Fifth District Courthouse. Up for sale were two properties, the compound that sits on six acres of land and is valued at $2.5 million and the elementary school, valued at $1.1 million.
Former FLDS member Ross Chatwin described the compound as consisting of three triplexes and a storehouse. While he didn’t attend the auction to bid on either property, he wanted to see what would come of them, and has misgivings concerning their new owner.
“Willie I have big concerns about,” Chatwin said.
He said Jessop, while acting as Jeffs “right-hand man,” did a lot of the church leader’s dirty work and has an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the polygamous communities of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz. He said he is afraid Jessop may try to set himself up as “another Warren Jeffs.”
However, Jessop said his intent for the properties, bought through R&W Excavating, is to put them back in the hands of the people and not use them for personal gain. He said the compound will likely be used for housing and the school, which was shut down over a decade ago, will be reopened at some point in the future.
“This is the first step of getting the community back,” Jessop said. He added he wants the people of Hildale and Colorado City to know “there is life after Jeffs.”
“I hope the right thing happens here,” Chatwin said.
Warren Jeffs, the prophet and leader of the FLDS faith, was convicted on two felony counts of child sexual assault in 2011 and is currently serving out a life sentence in Texas.
- KUTV interview with Wille Jessop (via The Salt Lake Tribune)
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