(Photo: Reuters/Douglas C. Pizac/Pool)
The Texas Attorney General filed an affidavit Wednesday to seize the vast expanse of land owned by Warren Jeffs, leader of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Ladder-day Saints (FLDS).
The 91-page affidavit argues that Jeffs' 1,600 acre Yearning for Zion Ranch, located in Eldorado, Texas, is the source of sexual assault on minors and bigamy, and its acquisition constitutes the "next step" in shutting down the FLDS Church, according to attorney general spokesperson Jerry Strickland.
"Warren Steed Jeffs orchestrated the purchase of the Suspected Place for the purpose of facilitating and perpetrating criminal offenses, including Bigamy, Sexual Assault, and Aggravated Sexual Assault," reads the affidavit, as reported by ABC News.
Jeffs, 56, is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for the sexual assault of two underage women he claimed to be his wives.
Prosecutors for the land's seizure argue that Jeffs used money laundering to finance the Yearning for Zion Ranch, as its value has increased by $32 million since its purchase in 2003.
FLDS sect attorney Rod Parker told The Salt Lake Tribune that although the warrant represents a civil foreclosure rather than a criminal investigation, it could still force the ranch's current inhabitants off the property, an act which Parker argues is unwarranted.
"It seems like the objective is to take the property and sell it to the highest bidder," Parker said of the warrant, adding that it would be unfair for authorities to evict FLDS Church members living on the ranch because "they're punishing the victims. These aren't the people who committed the crimes."
The FLDS is an offshoot of the mainstream Mormon Church, and members of the sect believe that polygamy provides salvation into the afterlife.
The population of the Yearning for Zion Ranch has greatly diminished after Texas Rangers raided the property in 2008 in response to a tip that the sexual molestation of children was occurring within the sect.
Hundreds of children were taken into custody following the raid, and Jeffs' was found guilty of sexual assault three years later.
It is still undetermined what will happen to the large amount of rural land should Texas be successful in seizing the property.