ST. GEORGE – The red 2007 Cadillac Escalade polygamous church leader Warren Jeffs used to flee authorities in 2006 before being caught and arrested was auctioned off Monday morning at a public execution sale held on the front steps of the 5th District courthouse in St. George.
The auction was held as part of an effort to satisfy a nearly $30 million lawsuit judgment in favor of one of Jeff’s former bodyguards, William “Willie” Jessop and affiliate companies, according to Washington County Constable Jean Dickson, who presided over the auction.
In April 2006, Jeffs was charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice following an investigation by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and, in May of that year, Jeffs was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list along with a $100,000 reward for his arrest.
Jeffs was located inside the Escalade in August 2006 by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper during a routine traffic stop near Las Vegas.
After being convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting the young girls – one 12 years old and the other 15 – he had taken as wives, Jeffs is serving a life prison sentence in Texas.
The Escalade, titled in the name of John Wayman, is currently in the possession of the FBI and is being held as evidence, according to Mark James, Jessop’s attorney, who was bidding Monday on behalf of Jessop’s R&W Excavating business, a judgement creditor of Jeffs and Wayman.
In 2012, Jessop won a lawsuit against Jeffs and the leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by default after they failed to defend themselves in court against Jessop’s claims that he was excommunicated from the church due to his dissent toward Jeffs after learning of the cases of child sexual abuse taking place, and that leaders of the church nearly destroyed his business.
Bidding at the courthouse Monday was done with an understanding that the exact contents of the Escalade were unknown to those officiating.
“I don’t have an inventory of what was in the Escalade,” James said. “My understanding is there was some cash, there was some computer records and some other things, but I don’t know exactly what was in the Escalade; the FBI has that.”
The FBI reportedly recovered 15 cell phones, walkie-talkies, a police scanner, laptop computers, wigs, sunglasses, prepaid phone and credit cards, at least $54,000 in cash, and a duffel bag stuffed with unopened envelopes possibly containing even more money, from the SUV, according to past FBI reports.
James also made it clear before the auction began that the person who ultimately won the bidding was purchasing the rights to the property, but would still have to deal with the FBI in attempting to obtain possession of the property.
“It’s not automatic that if you bid on the Escalade, and you’re the high bid, you will have a car to drive away,” James said. “For whatever reason, the FBI, in theory, could not provide – not release the Escalade to the buyer.”
The bid for the Escalade began at $25,000. The winning bid was made by R&W Excavating in the amount of $30,000. Only two other people placed bids; one for $25,500 and the other for $25,600.
R&W Excavating also won the bid for the contents of the Escalade with a bid of $50,000. No other bids were submitted.
Plans for the Escalade
In an interview with Jessop following the auction, Jessop said the most important reason for bidding on the SUV is the vehicle’s value and trying to satisfy some of the outstanding debt he is owed.
When asked what he plans to do with the Escalade, Jessop said: “Oh, I’ll probably put it in the garage of the bed and breakfast and y’all can come out and check it out.”
Jessop added that he hopes some of the vehicle’s contents will bring closure to others as it has for him, as most people, he said, have not been granted access to what is inside the Escalade, and are still skeptical about Jeffs’ guilt just as Jessop had been.
In 2011, believing that evidence against Jeffs was being altered or fabricated in Texas, Jessop said, he began researching what was in the SUV, hoping to find evidence or information that would help exonerate Jeffs of the crimes he had been charged with.
Instead of finding evidence to clear Jeffs’ name, Jessop said, he found damning evidence, including audiotapes that verified what Jeffs had been doing with young FLDS girls behind closed doors.
“That vehicle was basically what we used to establish a lot of the accusations they made against him in Texas was true and validated,” Jessop said. “So, we ultimately got into it to prove his innocence – ultimately ended in sealing his fate.”
He said the vehicle contents will now allow others to make the determination for themselves.
“I think it brings a lot of closure for a lot of people that want to have the experience I did, which is to try to understand what (Jeffs) did,” Jessop said, “and it really sheds a real insight as to the double life he was leading at the expense of a lot of people who lost their personal assets, and people that lost a lot of confidence in religion and a lot of things. There’s a lot of victims behind this thing and there’s thousands more than just me, and I think some of the contents would be used to allow people to just bring closure to it; just understand it enough to close the chapter, we hope to do that.”
Jessop’s prior auction purchases
In April 2013, Jessop also acquired at auction two parcels of land formerly owned by Jeffs, for a prevailing bid of $3.6 million. The properties consisted of a large walled-off compound and an elementary school and also credited towards satisfaction of the judgment Jessop and his affiliate companies hold.
Jessop has since converted the compound into what is now America’s Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast, open to the public and used for community purposes in the Short Creek community of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, once wary of the public.
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