GRAND MARAIS, Minn. (AP) — A company tied to a man who led a secretive polygamous sect’s compound in South Dakota has purchased about 40 acres of land in northern Minnesota.
Seth Jeffs is listed as registered agent for the company that acquired land west of the Lake Superior town of Grand Marais. Officials in Cook County, Minnesota, said Friday that the property was transferred in August to the company, Emerald Industries LLC.
Jeffs is the brother of Warren Jeffs, imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Authorities have said Seth Jeffs led the sect’s South Dakota Black Hills compound, which has raised concerns among nearby landowners and a Republican state lawmaker who unsuccessfully pushed legislators to look into the outpost.
Seth Jeffs, who took a plea deal in a multimillion-dollar food-stamp fraud case in 2016, applied in August to build a 5,760-square-foot building on the Minnesota land; the permit was approved in December, but officials say the pole building hasn’t yet been constructed. The county values the property at $57,300.
Jeffs didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment from The Associated Press. His brother, Lyle Jeffs, was sentenced in 2017 to prison for his role in carrying out the food stamp fraud scheme and for escaping home confinement while awaiting trial. He was caught in South Dakota after pawn shop workers spotted him and called police.
The group, also known as the FLDS, has long been based out of a remote community on the Utah-Arizona border, but the sect is losing control of the governments and police that run the sister cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. The group let a sprawling building where its members worshipped be taken over in eviction , in a sign that the sect is crumbling and losing control of the community it ruled for a century.
Warren Jeffs, considered by the group to be a prophet who speaks for God, is serving a life sentence for assaulting two of his child brides.
The FLDS is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the faith abandoned the practice in 1890 and prohibits it today.
The FLDS opened the 140-acre compound near the town of Pringle, South Dakota, more than a decade ago. Known to the faithful as “R23,” the compound sits along a gravel road, secluded by tall pine trees, a privacy fence and a guard tower.
Questions over the compound’s population were an issue during 2015 proceedings before South Dakota regulators. The Water Management Board eventually approved the group’s application, which faced opposition from nearby landowners, even though the sect declined to provide many details about the number of people living there.
A Republican legislator in 2017 proposed finding out more about the compound, including what its population was, whether it had a home schooling program, and whether polygamy or sex trafficking was taking place there. Lawmakers decided against studying it, with one top legislator saying it was up to law enforcement to investigate.
South Dakota law requires births and deaths to be reported, but the Department of Health said then that no such records had been filed from the compound’s address in the previous 10 years. One former resident said births occurred at the site, among them two of her own children.