New lawsuit accuses FLDS Church leaders of ritualistic sex abuse

Posted at 4:59 PM, Dec 27, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new lawsuit accuses Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs and others in the church of ritualistic sex abuse involving girls as young as eight years old.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in state court by a 21-year-old woman only identified as "R.H.," levels allegations of abuse against Warren Jeffs, his brothers Lyle Jeffs and Seth Jeffs; and former FLDS leader Wendell Nielsen of sex abuse. It also goes after the FLDS Church and the court-controlled real-estate holdings arm, the United Effort Plan Trust.

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs in a 2014 deposition from the Texas prison where he is serving a life sentence.

"I have filed this lawsuit in order to hold certain parties accountable for the religious-based systemic sexual abuse of young children. Even though Warren Jeffs is in prison, it is my belief and personal experience that these abuses continue," R.H. said in a statement to FOX 13 released through her attorneys.

"It is my hope that the FLDS community will see that Warren Jeffs' communications and edicts should not be followed, as they have tragic consequences to the victims and legal consequences to his followers. I hope that filing this case will give strength to the many others who have been and are still being abused in the FLDS community and that the abuse done in the name of 'religion' will stop."

In the lawsuit, R.H. alleges that she would be taken from her home with a bag over her head, driven to an unknown location, then disrobed and sexually abused by the Jeffs brothers and Nielsen. She alleges that others would watch the abuse.

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in a photo provided to FOX 13. (Faces blurred to protect the identity of any alleged crime victims)

"Systemic sex abuse at the hands of Warren Jeffs and other leaders of the FLDS Church from the age of eight until the age of 14," her attorney, Alan Mortensen, told FOX 13 in an interview Wednesday.

The woman claims the ritualistic abuse was documented and would occur between five and six times a week. R.H. alleges in the lawsuit that she was also ordered to document the abuse of other girls.

After Warren Jeffs was sentenced to a life term for child sex assault, it is believed he halted all marriages in an edict issued from his Texas prison cell. However, Michael Worel, another of R.H.'s attorneys, said he believed abuses still continue within the church.

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in a photo provided to FOX 13. (Faces blurred to protect the identity of any alleged crime victims)

Mortensen, Worel and attorney Lance Milne have gone after Jeffs and the FLDS Church before. They represented Elissa Wall, who sued over her marriage at age 14 in a ceremony the FLDS leader presided over. She recently obtained a multi-million dollar judgment against him and the church. The UEP Trust, controlled by the Utah State Courts, settled its portion of Wall's lawsuit.

It remains to be seen if the Jeffs brothers, Nielsen, and the FLDS Church even respond to the lawsuit. Warren Jeffs has repeatedly refused to answer questions in depositions or react to litigation.

Mortensen said the FLDS Church was being served with the lawsuit on Wednesday afternoon, but he did not know if they would have an attorney show up to defend them in court. Lyle Jeffs is in prison on food stamp fraud charges; Seth Jeffs was convicted of similar offenses and served jail time. Nielsen was convicted of bigamy in Texas, served a brief sentence and was released from prison in 2013.

A message left with a representative of the UEP Trust was not immediately returned on Wednesday.

R.H.'s lawsuit does not state a dollar amount for damages, but Milne said the woman wants her day in court.

"She wants justice and we fully intend on pursuing that for her," he said.