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Polygamist Warren Jeffs’ Texas ranch being seized by state officials

Polygamist Warren Jeffs' Texas ranch being seized by state officials

ELDORADO, Texas — Texas authorities initiated the seizure of the 1,600-acre ranch where prosecutors say polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs and others sexually abused children, officials said Thursday.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office met Wednesday afternoon with two residents of the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, and those occupants said eight adults live there, a DPS spokesman said Thursday.

Authorities provided the residents with copies of court orders directing the state to take possession of the forfeited ranch, state officials said.

“Law enforcement personnel are working with the occupants of the ranch to take all reasonable actions to assist with their departure of the property, to preserve the property, and to successfully execute the court order,” the state agency said.

The state obtained the final judgment of forfeiture on January 6, authorities said. The Attorney General’s Office filed for the seizure of the property in 2012.

In 2008, in response to phone calls to a family violence hot line alleging abuse and rape, police raided the ranch, and 416 children were initially removed. That figure rose to 468 after some of the mothers were found to be younger than 18. About 130 women voluntarily left the compound.

The children were returned to the complex after the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state had no right to remove them and lacked evidence to show they were in imminent danger of abuse.

Child protection officials said they found a “pervasive pattern” of sexual abuse on the ranch through forced marriages between underage girls and older men.

In August 2011, a Texas jury found Jeffs guilty of sexual assault against two girls, ages 12 and 15. He is serving a life sentence.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints openly practices polygamy on the YFZ Ranch, as well as in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Critics of the sect say girls are forced into “spiritual” marriages with older men and sexually abused.

Sect members have denied that any sexual abuse takes place.