COVER: The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints temple is the centerpiece of the Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado in remote Schleicher County. The 1,700-acre ranch was seized this week by the state because it had been used in criminal activity. PHOTO by RANDY MANKIN/THE ELDORADO SUCCESS
by TERRI LANGFORD
ELDORADO — Six years after Texas officials removed hundreds of children from their polygamist parents, state and local authorities seized the sprawling 1,700-acre Yearning For Zion Ranch this week outside Eldorado, bringing to a close a bizarre chapter involving fundamentalist Mormons whose leaders were eventually convicted for their participation in marriages to teen girls.
In a statement released Thursday, Texas Department of Public Safety officials said they seized the property and that the few remaining residents living there had agreed to leave.
The property was forfeited to the state because it was used in criminal activity, according to a seizure warrant in the case.
“At approximately 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety met with current residents of the property and provided them with copies of the court orders applicable to the forfeiture,” the statement said.
On April 3, 2008, caseworkers with the Texas Department of Child Protective Services, operating on a tip, entered the ranch to question members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as FLDS, about reports that teen girls were married to adult men in the community.
Hundreds of FLDS members had relocated to West Texas in 2003 from Utah and Arizona. The group, a sect disavowed by the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church, practices polygamy.
Although the call that led Texas investigators to the ranch was proven to be a hoax, CPS removed 439 children as a precaution. The subsequent litigation to reunite the children with their families and the prosecution of 11 church members, including leader Warren Jeffs, dragged on for years. Ten of the 11 were convicted on child sexual assault charges. The child abuse investigation cost state taxpayers more than $12 million.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office filed for the seizure of the property in 2012. The FLDS did not fight the action and the 51st District Court entered a default judgment. Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s office declined to say what the state will do with the property.
TERRI LANGFORD reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.