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Utah compound of jailed polygamist sect leader sold at auction

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A Utah compound where polygamist sect leader and convicted child rapist Warren Jeffs had planned to live if ever released from a Texas prison was sold on Thursday to his estranged bodyguard at a court-ordered auction, officials said.

The six-acre (2.4-hectare) compound in Hildale, one of two polygamist-dominated towns that straddle the Utah-Arizona border, sold in two parcels for a total of $3.6 million.

Jeffs, 57, was sentenced to life plus 20 years in 2011 on sexual assault convictions related to his marriages with two underage girls. Despite his incarceration, he is said to remain in control of his breakaway Mormon sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

William Jessop, former bodyguard and sect spokesman, was the sole bidder for the property with homes and a school, said Washington County Undersheriff Bart Bailey.

The forced sale of the Hildale compound stemmed from a 2012 lawsuit by Jessop that alleged that Jeffs and other church leaders destroyed his construction business and harassed his family after a schism with Jeffs, according to court documents.

Jessop was awarded nearly $30 million in damages by a Utah court, which later ordered the Hildale compound sold to partially satisfy the judgment. The property had been owned by a non-profit that a judge ruled was the "alter ego" of Jeffs and other church leaders, legal records show.

Jessop acquired the property on a credit bid, Bailey said. Jessop could not immediately be reached for comment.

The auction is the latest development in a years-long battle over control of land and homes owned by Jeffs and his followers in the twin polygamist border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, and elsewhere.

A communal land trust - valued at up to $120 million - once run by Jeffs was seized by Utah's courts in 2005 amid allegations he and other sect leaders had mismanaged assets. But the Hildale compound and other properties were not included in the trust.

Jeffs, if ever released from prison, had planned to live in the Hildale compound in a "very large house" built by followers, said Bruce Wisan, the fiduciary appointed by a Utah court to oversee the trust.

Jeffs' sect, which has an estimated 10,000 followers in North America, shares religious roots with the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream Mormon church denounced polygamy in 1890 as Utah sought statehood.

An attorney for the sect did not respond to a request for comment.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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