Lawsuit alleges FLDS leaders used underage girls for sex in rituals
(KUTV) — Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints President Warren Jeffs, in addition to other church leaders and its former land trust, face accusations of carrying out a "calculated plan" to sexually abuse underage girls as part of religious rituals, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
The lawsuit further levels accusations against the United Effort Plan Trust, Warren Jeffs' brothers Lyle and Seth Jeffs, former FLDS President and convicted bigamist Wendell Nielsen, and the church.
As part of FLDS beliefs, men have historically sexually abused and assaulted underage girls, court documents say. But under Warren Jeffs' leadership, the lawsuit's plaintiff — a 21-year-old woman identified as R.H. — says a new practice involving ritualistic sexual intercourse with young girls began.
When she was 8 years old, R.H. says she would be taken from her home, wearing a bag over her head, to an unknown location. This would usually be an FLDS temple in Colorado City, Arizona, or another church or trust-owned property. Upon arrival, she says she would be assigned a number for a religious ritual. There, the lawsuit says she was sexually assaulted by the Jeffs brothers, Nielsen, or other church members and leaders. When they weren't assaulting her, she says, they would watch.
R.H. alleges that Warren Jeffs said if she told anyone about the abuse, "God would destroy her and her family immediately." He also reportedly said that if she cried during the ritual, "God would punish her."
These rituals reportedly happened five to six times a week until R.H. turned 12 years old. When she was 14 years old, court documents say that she was forced to watch and document other girls' ritualistic abuse with church leaders.
The woman's attorneys cite evidence recovered from the FLDS Church's temple in Eldorado, Texas as proof for the abuse. This is the same location where Warren Jeffs lived before his arrest and conviction for sexually assaulting two girls.
According to court documents, the abuse continued when she turned 16 and began participating in "Ladies Class" to learn how to be a good wife. During these classes, she says Lyle Jeffs would escort her out of class and into his sound-proof office, where he would sexually assault her "under the guise of further teachings" in the class.
The church and its former land trust are liable because they hired the church leaders and, therefore, enabled the abuse, the lawsuit alleges.
R.H. is requesting physical and emotional damages and is asking for a jury trial. Her attorneys, Michael Worel, Alan Mortensen, and Lance Milne, also represented Elissa Wall, who filed a lawsuit against Warren Jeffs and many of the same defendants in 2005 over being forced to marry when she was 14 years old.
In September Warren Jeffs was ordered to pay Wall $16 million in damages when Wall's case was resolved.
R.H. approached Worel, Mortensen and Milne because they had represented Wall, according to Worel. The woman wanted to file the lawsuit because she believes the alleged abuse is still occurring in the church.
"The whole point of filing the lawsuit is she's hoping to empower others to come forward and to speak out and to see if we can make this stop," Worel said.
The executive director of the United Effort Plan Trust, Jeff Barlow, declined to speak with the Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday evening. Barlow reportedly said he would comment on the lawsuit once he had reviewed the complaint.
Lyle Jeffs, who was once the FLDS church's day-to-day leader, was recently sentenced to nearly 5 years in prison for his role in a church-wide defrauding of the government through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and for fleeing from authorities. Seth Jeffs was also charged in this case, pleading guilty. He received credit for time served as part of a plea deal and was released from jail.
Read the full lawsuit: