Businesses back open after mysterious closure in FLDS towns

Posted at 2:46 PM, Nov 16, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-17 19:48:56-05

UPDATE, Sunday, Nov. 17 — As mysteriously as they closed down, businesses in the polygamous border towns of Hildale and Colorado City have apparently re-opened Saturday.

Private investigator Sam Brower spoke with Fox 13 and said the grocery store, the hardware store and other businesses have now opened their doors to the public.

HILDALE, Utah -- This town's only grocery store and a hardware store have abruptly closed, leaving many wondering if it was under orders of imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who has reportedly prophesied the end of the world.

Photographs provided to FOX 13 show the town's grocery store being cleaned out in the middle of the night. By Friday morning, the windows were papered over and a sign simply read: "CMC is closed. Thanks for your patronage!"

Locals in the towns said a hardware store, a Radio Shack and a restaurant had also been closed.

"They would never do something like that without Warren ordering it," said Isaac Wyler, an ex-FLDS member who lives in Hildale. "The priesthood heirarchy chain of command is in on something big like that."

Others tell FOX 13 the move may be related to a recent court ruling affirming state control over the FLDS towns' land. In 2005, a judge in Utah's 3rd District Court took control of the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust amid allegations that Warren Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders mismanaged it. The UEP Trust controls the majority of the land in the towns. It underwent a series of reforms and lawsuits over those reforms.

Mired in debt, a plan is being pushed to subdivide and sell the land to pay accountant and attorney's fees. The plan has upset FLDS faithful, who filed legal challenges claiming their religion calls for their property must be consecrated to God.

Rod Parker, an attorney representing FLDS members, said he was unaware of the businesses closing until he was told about it by FOX 13.

Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault, stemming from underage marriages. Ex-members and observers of the polygamous church said Jeffs has issued more rules and restrictions on his followers from prison -- including new food restrictions.

"There's a lot of stuff that almost looks like the old Jewish law with the Kosher diet and circumcision for men," said Tonia Tewell, the director of the group Holding Out Help, which works with people leaving polygamous communities. "You can't even eat turnips, I hear."

In recent days, Tewell said she has seen an influx of people seeking resources as they prepare to leave the FLDS Church.

Sam Brower, a private investigator and author of the book "Prophet's Prey," provided FOX 13 with video of the towns showing an increased law enforcement presence. He said Jeffs has reportedly told his followers to confess their sins or face a "scourge of death."

"People are expecting the end of the world to come and so 'we need to be prepared, selling things, clothing, stores,' " said Jeffrey L. Shields, an attorney representing the court-appointed accountant who oversees the UEP Trust. "It sounds irrational."

UPDATE: 12:35 p.m., Saturday: Brower tells FOX 13 that on Saturday, the businesses reopened just as mysteriously as they had closed. No explanation for the sudden closure or reopening was given.