Sioux Falls, SD
Events in Texas could lead to a migration to Pringle, South Dakota.
The state of Texas wants to seize the Warren Jeffs compound in that state. Jeffs is the polygamist leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints who is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting teenage girls.
One former member says the effort to seize the ranch in Texas could lead the followers who have been left behind to relocate to an expanding compound near Pringle in Custer County.
Twenty-two buildings have been constructed since the followers moved to the South Dakota site and photos from this fall show four more are being built. Custer County officials estimate 200 to 300 people are living there.
In September 2011, KELOLAND News interviewed a neighbor who said all the work is part of a long-term construction project.
"Right now, they have a five-year plan for construction and they're in the first year of that five-year plan," Rick Hickstein said in 2011.
Now there are fears that more followers could move to compounds across the country, including the one in Pringle if Texas is allowed to seize Jeffs' 1,600 acre compound in that state.
Flora Jessop is a former member of the FLDS. She escaped the sect in 1986.
"Of course, South Dakota up there in Pringle is probably their largest holding and I imagine a large part of the people will move to the South Dakota compound," Jessop said.
The Texas Attorney General believes the land and the construction in that state were financed through illegal money laundering.
Court documents claim the remote Texas ranch was built to shield Jeffs and other FLDS members from being prosecuted for sexually assaulting children and that’s why they want the state to take control of the property.
Jessop believes recent construction in South Dakota and the fact authorities have left the group alone make Pringle the perfect place to move.
"I know it's difficult, that you have to have reasons to go in, but at the same time we've got to go by the history of this group; the abusive nature of them. I just think that if South Dakota hasn't moved on them so far and has just let them be that they will feel free to move up there," Jessop said.
That migration of followers may have already started because Texas authorities said Wednesday that they don't believe there are many FLDS members living at the ranch in Texas anymore.
When KELOLAND News interviewed the Custer County Sheriff about the continued construction at the Pringle compound back in September, he said as far as he knew, the group wasn't breaking any laws.
As far as the seizure attempt in Texas, it’s simply a court filing at this point and the FLDS members can respond in court.