2 Apr 2011

Film documenting plight of teen boys abandoned and shunned by Mormon polygamists raises money for their recovery

Houston Chronicle - Texas March 31, 2011

Documentary follows teens exiled from polygamous sect


There's something about coming-of-age films, with their familiar sense of newfound independence balanced with a yearning for family connection, a desire to grow up but not too much, that American audiences love.

In many ways, this archetype is at the center of Sons of Perdition, an independent film showing in Houston for the first time next week.

But the teenage boys featured in this documentary have a darker, more painful background as exiles from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

They're called the "lost boys." Some fled on their own. But others had their coming-of-age moment thrust upon them by a prophet who forced them to leave their families and religious community to live completely separate from the polygamist compound where they grew up.

That prophet was Warren Jeffs, the now-imprisoned leader of the 10,000-member FLDS sect, which split from mainstream Mormonism more than 120 years ago to continue the disavowed practice of plural marriage.

Over his nearly decade-long reign as head of the FLDS church, he rid the Colorado City, Ariz. , settlement of hundreds of young men while older leaders continued to take young women as wives. Jeffs is currently in a Texas prison, awaiting trial for sexual assault and bigamy.

"It's related to Jeffs. Sociologists would say it's an inevitable demographic shift that has to occur for that marriage pattern to continue," said Martha Bradley, an expert in Mormon history and dean at the University of Utah. "It's really an extreme test of loyalty for Jeffs to order one of their followers to get rid of their teenage son."

The boys who leave are, in their families' minds and their own, "sons of perdition," destined for damnation for rejecting God's teachings.

"What do you do when you're 16, and you're told that you're evil and you're going to hell?" asked Tyler Measom, who directed and produced the film with Jennilyn Merten. They followed exiled teenagers through their initial culture shock and desperate homesickness for their families.

The FLDS Church has not issued a response to the film, said Rod Parker, their Utah-based attorney.

"It's made me really angry to watch their families fall apart over religion," Merten said. "Sam (one of the boys in the film) said, 'I don't think religion should ever come between family. Family should be your religion.' "

The film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and will be screened Wednesday at Houston's 14 Pews. It will also air on the Oprah Winfrey Network this summer.

As former Mormons who made the difficult decision to leave the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Measom and Merten knew what it felt like to take that disappointing turn from such a tight religious group.

"It was a difficult, difficult process," said Measom. "You're disappointing family and community and everything you've come to believe."

The boys they met — Joe Broadbent, Bruce Barlow and Sam Zitting - had it much harder and may always struggle with living apart from their relatives.

"Getting involved helped expel some of that sympathy," Merten said. Their documentary has raised $100,000 to support ex-FLDS youth making the transition to living on their own.

She still follows Jeffs' trial and the state of the community, which appears to be in turmoil.

Though Jeffs hasn't formally resigned his presidency, church elder William E. Jessop became president of the corporation that is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints after filing papers with the Utah Department of Commerce on Monday, in what Jessop calls "an attempt to restore the church."

"It's really going to be interesting now to see, No. 1, Warren Jeffs' reaction, and No. 2, what the people's reaction will be," said Anne Wilde, co-founder of the polygamy advocacy group Principle Voices. Jeffs already ceded authority of the church once to Jessop in 2007, although Jessop didn't act on the directive at the time.

President of the church since 2002, Jeffs has spent most of the past four years behind bars. He was arrested in 2006 and convicted the next year on Utah charges of rape as an accomplice. The conviction was later overturned, and Jeffs was extradited to Texas. Trial is set for July in San Angelo.

Accusations against Jeffs date back to 2004, when his nephew Brent filed a sexual abuse suit against him. In Brent's book, Lost Boy, he writes that the leader abused him and his two brothers.

Even a guilty ruling for Jeffs may not shake the faith of his followers, who believe that persecution from outsiders is a sign that they are following the will of God.

"The idea of being a persecuted people means this plays into the thinking that, 'We're right. We're a special people,' " said Merten, who researched Jeffs for the film.

The allegations of sexual assault against children - raised by evidence found in the raid of their ranch in 2008 - may have discouraged members from taking younger wives.

"That's one very positive thing to come out of this; they've already started to be more cautious (about marriage ages)," said Bradley, the historian.

Measom and Merten said they're hopeful the FLDS community will become more open, allowing children to attend public schools and letting the lost boys reunite with their families.

Before coming to Houston, Sons of Perdition screened in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas.

"We're hoping for San Angelo next," Merten half-joked.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

This article was found at:


Mormon fundamentalist leader must testify in tax case and reveal details of polygamy and child brides in Bountiful

Documentary on boys abandoned by or escaped from Mormon polygamists will air on Oprah's network

Interview with directors of "Sons of Perdition" documentary on teens exiled from Mormon polygamous sect

"Sons of Perdition", premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, tells stories of escapees from Mormon fundamentalist cult

Utah program to help families leaving polygamy expands to offer life skills to youth escaped from FLDS communities

"Lost Boy" - An Insider's Account of Life in the FLDS Cult [book]

Author who escaped abuse in US polygamy cult explains why Canadian constitutional case is so important in both countries

Stop Polygamy in Canada website has notes taken by observers in the courtroom as well as links to most of the affidavits and research the court is considering in this case.


  1. More young people leaving polygamous sect, aid workers say
    The Salt Lake Tribune Sep 10 2011

    Aid organizations say they are seeing more young people, especially young men, leaving or being asked to leave the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs. “We’re seeing quite an influx,” said Tonia Tewell, executive director of Salt Lake City-based Holding out Help, which provides housing and other aid to people leaving polygamous communities, including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “There is no room for the youth to go whatsoever.”

    Speaking during a Safety Net meeting last week, Tewell said she’s seen a bump since the beginning of this year, shortly after Jeffs was extradited to Texas to face sexual assault of a child charges. From a pay phone in his jail cell, Jeffs excommunicated dozens of men and put new restrictions on the behavior of other members, like a ban on Internet usage, former members have said.

    Those who stayed in the community redoubled their efforts to become “pure” and increase their faith to free their leader. That’s resulted in more young people chafing against the new rules or being asked to leave the community if they don’t follow along, Tewell said. She’s getting a few new people seeking help every week, and her organization now serves about 150 people.

    Crises like the current ones — Jeffs being sentenced to life in prison after his conviction and a power struggle with a rival prophet — don’t usually make droves of people leave the FLDS, said Shannon Price, director of the Diversity Foundation. The sect has about 10,000 members based along the Utah-Arizona border.

    “How many crises has this community gone through?” she said. “All crises do is bring people who are very devout closer together.”

    Alhough the current turmoil hasn’t caused a bump in the numbers at her organization, which serves more than 400 young former FLDS members sometimes know as “Lost Boys,” Diversity’s numbers have been steadily increasing during the past several years, she said. So far this year, they’ve started helping 10 additional students with their college degrees.

    While older, more established FLDS members with families may be more likely to band together, younger people with fewer bonds have less reason to stay, she said.

    But they often have fewer tools to survive. While middle-aged FLDS people grew up during a time when members often went to public school and got college degrees, younger members have lived in a more closed, isolated community — FLDS children have not attended public school for 10 years, since Jeffs ordered them to leave in 2000.

    “There’s usually a delayed maturity,” Price said. Because their upbringing has been so different from other American teenagers, typical homeless shelters don’t work, Tewell said.

    “They’re still so different than the general population, I just think it would be a disaster,” she said. Many who left or have been forced out have arrest records, such as for drinking alcohol or scrawling graffiti.

    Joni Holm, who gives support to about 50 people leaving the FLDS with the Child Protection Project, also said that host families who take in those kids need to know how to help them.

    “We need to get a very strong mentoring program to teach these host families what is needed ... [so they can understand] the dynamic of what they’re coming from,” she said.


  2. FBI, S.L. County probe alleges fraud, sexual trysts in FLDS 'lost boys' program

    By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News March 14, 2012

    SALT LAKE CITY — Fraud, deceit, sexual trysts and an untimely death make up a sordid tale investigators say they uncovered among those who ran a government-funded shelter for "lost boys" of the polygamous FLDS Church.

    A yearlong investigation by the FBI and the Salt Lake County Auditor's Office resulted in federal prosecutors going to a grand jury seeking criminal charges against Richard Parks, the county's AmeriCorps program administrator for the past eight years.

    Parks, 64, of Salt Lake City, was indicted Wednesday on 25 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, making false statements and theft from a program receiving federal funds. The indictment seeks $95,154 in restitution.

    "It's an incredible story," said Jim Wightman, the county auditor's director of compliance and performance assessment. "It's off the charts. It involves so many aspects of Utah culture."

    Though the case doesn't involve huge sums of money, its tentacles reach the Utah Legislature, the Utah Attorney General's Office, Salt Lake County and St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who is accused of an Internet marketing scam.

    Auditors discovered a "remarkable lack" of county and state oversight of the program, according to a 78-page Salt Lake County Auditor's report obtained by the Deseret News. The report also found:

    • AmeriCorps workers at the lost boys shelter were overpaid a total of $21,937. (Workers are volunteers who receive a stipend for completing contracted service hours.)

    • Parks allegedly encouraged AmeriCorps workers in St. George to falsify time cards.

    • The shelter's clinical director and others were paid for full-time work though they enrolled as half-time AmeriCorps workers.

    • Parks allegedly obtained reimbursements for trips to St. George that were not business-related but to carry on an affair with an AmeriCorps worker.

    Reached at his home, Parks said he did not want to comment on the allegations. Parks' attorney, Greg Skordas, said he tried to resolve the allegations prior to the indictment, but couldn't reach an agreement with federal prosecutors.

    "We have a difference of opinion on his culpability," Skordas said.

    From October 2006 to October 2008, Salt Lake County's AmeriCorps program had an agreement with the nonprofit New Frontiers for Families and its House Just Off Bluff project.

    The eight-bedroom home near Bluff Street in St. George served as a haven for boys fleeing from or being kicked out of the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. AmeriCorps, a national service organization that relies on volunteers, provided workers for the shelter.

    In addition to the AmeriCorps grant, New Frontiers received $250,000 from the Utah Legislature for the shelter. Johnson, a one-time multimillionaire philanthropist whom federal authorities indicted and sued in connection with alleged Internet marketing fraud, donated use of the house.

    St. George officials closed the shelter in October 2008 amid allegations that clinical director Michelle Benward was not properly licensed and that the house violated city zoning laws. Benward was fired at the same time.

    Benward later acted as the "whistleblower" in the case, Wightman said. She brought the pay and timecard irregularities to Salt Lake County's attention in December 2010. Salt Lake County ran the program because Washington County, where the shelter was located, did not have an AmeriCorps grant.

    Benward, too, received payments she was not entitled to under AmeriCorps policy, according to the audit.

    "We chose not to target her," Wightman said. "But she was working it from every angle."

    Benward could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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  3. continued from previous comment:

    Benward also told county officials that her sister, Jami Christensen, lived and worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the shelter and had an affair with Parks, who was married. Parks knew Christensen from a youth program she participated in when she was a teenager. He received travel reimbursements for at least three trips to St. George from Salt Lake City to meet Christensen, the report says.

    Christensen, who suffered from mental illness, died of a drug overdose in July 2010 at age 38.

    "Emails obtained from her sister's email account after her passing led Benward to believe Parks' relationship with Christensen may have played a role in her untimely death," the report says.

    Wightman said investigators asked Parks if he thought he contributed to Christensen's death. "Without hesitation he said yes," Wightman said.

    Investigators aren't sure what motivated Parks to allegedly authorize overpayments and encourage falsified time sheets, Wightman said, adding there was no evidence Parks benefitted financially.

    The report said Parks' job depended solely on the AmeriCorps grant and he lacked judgment in recruiting volunteers with whom he'd had along history, and then had an affair with one of them.

    "This created conflicts and pressure that fed his acts of deceit and fraud," according to the report.

    Parks felt pressure from state lawmakers and the attorney general's office to expedite the lost boys program and ensure its success, the report suggests. The house was set up quickly and without a proven track record, Wightman said.

    "The way I would characterize Rich is he saw that he had a program that was all up to him," he said. County administrators, Wightman said, trusted Parks due to his long history with AmeriCorps programs and paid little attention to the house because it was hundreds of miles from Salt Lake City.

    "I think Rich figured that out and took his carte blanche and ran with it," Wightman said.

    The report says state and county administrators were lax in their oversight of the program.

    "We concluded that obligation of due care was neglected in numerous instances at all levels of administration. This resulted in wrongful acts, some illegal and others negligently administered," the report states.

    The findings may jeopardize the county's ability to receive future AmeriCorps grants.


  4. First study of people who leave FLDS polygamous sect shows struggle

    Findings » Children most often leave for the freedom to control their lives.

    By Lindsay Whitehurst The Salt Lake Tribune June 16 2012

    Martha Barlow’s education ended in the fifth grade, when she was pulled out of school to work in a cabinet shop and a farm. She didn’t get back until eight months ago, when she left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

    "Not having your family is definitely a big thing," the 17-year-old said. "That’s really hard. Everything else is fine but that, just not having your family there to support you."

    Starting again in the 11th grade, she initially struggled to catch up on her academics, working on math through her lunch hour. But she got back up to speed in a year.

    Barlow is one of some 750 young people who have left the Warren Jeffs-led FLDS in the past eight years — sometimes known as "Lost Boys."

    She spoke Friday at the Safety Net Committee Conference, where officials announced a first: a study surveying young people like Barlow.

    "There’s just no manual, no academic research," said Pat Merkley, clinical director of the Safety Net, which was started by the Utah attorney general to ensure people from polygamous communities have access to services. The fourth annual conference Friday focused on youth in polygamous communities, from how infants create attachments to their parents to the range of educational experiences in different polygamous groups.

    There’s a dearth of scholarly research on fundamentalist Mormons, Merkly said, and without it, social workers and therapists have little to guide them.

    The results of the survey of 90 young former members of the FLDS held some surprises. For example, the majority of those surveyed said they chose to leave rather than being forced out.

    "They don’t leave because their families told them to," Merkley said. "That was the most heart-wrenching."

    The survey also indicated the majority don’t go because they were interacting with the opposite sex or watching TV, both of which are off-limits in the strictly conservative sect.

    Rather, a full 80 percent said they left or were forced out because the FLDS limited their ability to make decisions in their own lives.

    Once they do leave, 60 percent of the teens said they aren’t ever allowed to visit or call home.

    Despite being cut off from their families, the vast majority — 87 percent — said they were happy to be living outside of the sect’s home base of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, and were more optimistic about the future.

    "They’re happy to be gone, but it’s a complicated happy," Merkley said, speaking from her experience as a therapist for former FLDS teens.

    It took about seven months to conduct the survey, and Merkley hopes it will be a "springboard" for more research in the future.

    Partial findings were released Friday; full results will be published in a booklet or in a scholarly journal later.


  5. Son of Perdition: FLDS Escapee Builds New Life Outside Warren Jeffs' Control
    ABC 20/20


    July 18, 2013 - Watch the full story on "20/20: I Escaped My Life"

    Deep in the desert, at a roadside memorial, Willy Steed paid his respects to his friends, fellow teens who died in a car crash after a beer party.

    "I knew Vergie and Rachel and Jamieson…," Steed muttered.

    In any other place, this would be a tragic footnote to an all too common aspect of teenage life. But Steed's hometown is anything but ordinary. The young people who died weren't merely partying -- they were violating a strict religious code.

    Colorado City, population 8,000, sits on the border between Utah and Arizona. The residents are members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a radical splinter group of the mainstream Mormon church exiled for their refusal to renounce plural marriage.

    To live there is to turn back the clock a hundred years. No Internet, no television, no contact with the outside world. Every aspect of life -- what people wear, what they eat, even whom they marry -- is controlled by the man they call their prophet: Warren Jeffs.

    Jeffs is serving a life sentence for the sexual assault of children. Last fall, a yearlong "20/20" investigation revealed that Jeffs was still controlling his people's lives from behind prison walls, banning toys, bicycles and the eating of corn.

    Boys and girls are forbidden from speaking to one another. Hence the secret desert parties.

    "There's a reason the young boys go out at night, and the young girls go to those parties," Steed said. "It's because they can drink, they can be themselves and they can put away all that stress."

    FLDS church teaching holds that to attend these parties is to become a "son of perdition."

    "Son of perdition means you are Satan's property, and that you will burn in hell when you leave this life for what you have done," Steed said.

    Had he stayed here, Steed's name might be on the roadside memorial's cross alongside his friends'. But just weeks before the accident, Steed left.

    "I realized I needed to get out and be who I was and not who everyone wanted me to be."

    Steed escaped with the help of a group called Holding Out Help, a nonprofit for those leaving polygamist groups. The couple who took him in, Pam and Ron Jenson, was shocked to discover Steed couldn't read. Like most boys in the FLDS, he was pulled out of grade school to work.

    The Jensons have helped Steed claim the childhood he lost: his first ride on a rollercoaster, his first birthday cake, and the brave new world of Facebook.

    Steed has also met new friends who have opened doors to new possibilities. In June, a photographer, seeing potential in Steed as a model, brought him in for a photo shoot, completing the radical transformation he's undergone physically and emotionally.

    "Someone saw me for who I was and singled me out and picked me because of that," Steed said. "All my life [I] never believed in myself. It was so easy for me to get lost in the crowd of family, but out here it's so easy to be seen in a crowd and not get lost."


  6. Idaho seizes boys from Utah polygamous sect

    FLDS » Caretaker is charged with three misdemeanor counts of child abuse.

    By Nate Carlisle, The Salt Lake Tribune August 28, 2014

    Pocatello, Idaho » If the boy didn’t wake at 6 a.m., he wouldn’t be allowed to eat breakfast.

    The breakfast policy was just one of the rules the boy — apparently in his early teens — had to follow after running afoul of leaders of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

    Last month, police and child welfare agents removed the boy and eight others from a home outside Pocatello where they had been living with caretaker Nathan C. Jessop, now charged with three misdemeanor counts of child abuse.

    As discipline, Jessop struck boys with a board or broom or sent them outside into cold weather without coats, the children told investigators. One boy was confined to a furnace room for up to two days, where he was provided meals but could leave only to use the bathroom, a Bannock County sheriff’s report said.

    The boys, whose ages appear to range between 12 and 17, also described being given limited access to food and isolated from their parents as they raised money by building and selling furniture, mowing neighbors’ lawns and doing other odd jobs.

    Jessop and the boys are all former or current members of the FLDS and had been sent on "repentance missions" by church leader Warren Jeffs or his brother Lyle, according to the sheriff’s report, provided to The Tribune last week by the Bannock County Prosecuting Attorney.

    The names of the children, who were taken into state custody, were redacted from the 70-page report, which offers rare insight into the lives of people loyal to Warren Jeffs and how they deal with children they consider wayward.

    Before an Aug. 11 custody hearing in Pocatello, a Tribune reporter in the courthouse lobby heard lawyers tell the mothers of four boys that their cases were being dismissed and their sons would be able to go home with them.

    When 6th District Magistrate Judge Bryan Murray learned the journalist had also attended the hearing, Murray ordered him not to report on what was said or on the rulings in the cases. An attorney for The Tribune has asked Murray to reconsider the ban, pointing out there were no signs limiting who could enter, other people who were not parties in the case also were in the courtroom, and no one spoke when the judge asked whether there were objections to anyone present.

    Citing state policy, an Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman declined to say whether the boys remain in state custody.

    Raising questions » Idaho child advocates, meanwhile, are critical of the apparent return of at least some of the children to their families, questioning whether potential expenses played a role.

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  7. The Health and Welfare department has been more reluctant to open child protection cases and quicker to close them due to cost concerns and layoffs, said attorney Bradley Willis, who represents children in Bannock County through the Court Appointed Special Advocates program.

    "I know the department was concerned about the cost of keeping [eight] boys in foster care," said Willis, who did not disclose what was said in court or legal motions. He said the state also appeared concerned that FLDS parents would claim they were being discriminated against on the basis of their religion.

    "They were afraid of what happened down in Texas," Willis said, referring to the 2008 raid of the YFZ Ranch, where Texas authorities removed more than 400 FLDS children but eventually returned them.

    "This was one of the more hands-off approaches that the department has had when the safety and well-being of children has been brought before the court," Willis said of the Idaho FLDS cases.

    Former Bannock County Sheriff Bill Lynn, who now works with that county’s program for neglected and abused children, has written to the parties in the custody case, saying, "At least eight young boys will have been hurt by the decisions made."

    The Tribune obtained a copy of the letter.

    Some officials, Lynn wrote, "lost their vision in regards to these kids and were swayed by a fear of the costs involved and the effort and time that would have been necessary to insure that these boys had a chance at a decent future."

    The boys deserved a hearing, Lynn wrote, "and a chance to escape the tyranny of an evil prophet who will add their names to his long list of Lost Boys that, along with a little help from Idaho, will grow and grow and grow."

    The department declined to answer questions from The Tribune but issued a statement Wednesday.

    "Religious beliefs and practices are not a basis for child welfare intervention," the statement read. "There has to be substantiated evidence of abuse or neglect that affects a child’s well-being and safety."

    The caretaker »One boy who had been in Jessop’s Pocatello home escaped this summer, the sheriff’s report said, and contacted Holding Out Help, a Utah-based group that assists people leaving polygamous households. The boys told investigators that young men who have left the FLDS often tell others how to reach the group.

    Holding Out Help alerted the FBI. The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office first learned of the home on July 8, when an FBI agent called, Bannock County Sheriff’s Lt. Toni Vollmer wrote.

    Vollmer and child welfare investigators used information from the escaped boy to obtain a July 10 order from Judge Murray to remove the others, she wrote.

    One of the boys living with Jessop was his son, now 16, according to documents. Jessop said three of the boys were his stepsons and three others were his nephews.

    Jessop has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor counts and is scheduled to appear in 6th District Court in Bannock County on Thursday. His attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

    Two charges stem from his alleged failure to report that two boys had run away — the boy who contacted Holding Out Help and one of Jessop’s sons. The third count stems from the allegation that a boy was confined in the furnace room.

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  8. Vollmer said no other abuse charges have been filed because police and prosecutors could not prove the severity of the alleged physical discipline or when it occurred.

    Some of the boys said they had lived with Jessop for two years, in homes in Wyoming and Idaho.

    Jessop, 47, is the son of Merrill Jessop, who was the presiding bishop of the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. Merrill Jessop is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Texas for officiating the marriage of his then-12-year-old daughter to Warren Jeffs.

    "Nate" Jessop, as he was known at the Pocatello home, was suspected of having sex with an underage girl he took as a wife, according to Texas documents, but charges were never filed.

    Two of the boys said Jessop was on a repentance mission, where people deemed unworthy to be in what Warren Jeffs and Lyle Jeffs call the United Order are sent awayuntil the leaders say they can return.

    Life as an FLDS kid » Jessop told Idaho investigators the boys had been disobedient and in trouble with the law before their parents sent them to him to get straightened out. He said he was asked to take care of the boys in the fall of 2012.

    In October or November 2012, he and the boys lived near Big Piney, Wyo. They were joined by Tammy Jessop, who told investigators she was a spiritual wife of Jessop’s father and a former public school teacher.

    Tammy Jessop, now 56, said it was her job to teach the boys from a home school curriculum and to prepare their meals.

    The group moved to Pocatello in March 2013, the sheriff’s report said, where Jessop and boys older than 12 lived in one home. At that time, Tammy Jessop, the younger boys and a now-16-year-old girl and a now-20-year-old woman lived in another home.

    Jessop and the older boys moved to Downey, Idaho, in June 2013, then returned to Pocatello in December.

    Some boys told investigators they didn’t know why they were sent to live with Jessop; others didn’t say why.

    Jessop set up a wood shop and taught the boys to make furniture. The boys told police they made bookshelves and sold them in Pocatello, and made shelves, dressers and nightstands that were shipped to Short Creek.

    FLDS businesses have been cited in the past for using children as workers. The U.S. Department of Labor is currently investigating Paragon Contractors Corp., a business linked to the FLDS, for its alleged use of children as unpaid labor.

    Life in Pocatello » Jessop stopped using a board or broom for discipline after one boy bought a cell phone and threatened to call police if Jessop did it again, the boys said. Other details provided by the boys in the report include:

    » Boys who woke in time for breakfast could expect just a bowl of oatmeal. Lunch and dinner were provided, but Jessop kept the pantry locked so the boys couldn’t eat between meals. Warren Jeffs had banned drinking milk and eating corn. The boys were sneaking to Pocatello to buy fast food.

    » To buy the extra food and cell phones, the boys did odd jobs. The money they earned making furniture was placed into a fund to pay for house expenses.

    » Lyle Jeffs sent Jessop $5,000 a month to pay expenses, a 17-year-old boy told investigators.

    » The boys slept on the floor or on mattresses with blankets but no sheets.

    » The boys said they were not allowed to watch television or movies in the home. One boy said Jessop smashed his iPod because he was listening to the radio. The boys went to a McDonald’s restaurant to use the free wireless Internet connection with their phones.

    » Boys said they had not seen their parents since they were sent away and some had not spoken to them on a telephone in 10 or 11 months.

    » Jessop was gone for hours or an entire day without telling the boys he was leaving. When police arrived at the Pocatello home last month, no adults were there. Jessop was shopping in Logan, Utah.

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  9. Jessop admitted he had physically disciplined all the boys, according to the sheriff’s report. Vollmer wrote, "Nate advised that all the boys have been hard to handle and have not learned obedience."

    Tammy Jessop stopped the home schooling when the summer started, and said she started leaving the boys’ home after breakfast because the boys had become so rowdy. She would prepare lunch and dinner at her home, she said, and then bring the meals to the boys.

    Vollmer, in an interview, said it appears Tammy Jessop taught the boys until they were old enough to pursue a GED diploma. Vollmer said a couple of the older boys told her they were studying for GED tests.

    A plea to go home » Authorities in Bannock County consulted FBI agents who previously had investigated the FLDS and spoke with Tonia Tewell, who leads Holding Out Help.

    Tewell explained that FLDS leaders consider children to be property of the priesthood, not their parents, the report said.

    "Tonia advised that if the boys go back to their parents, they will be turned back over to the church leaders," Vollmer wrote.

    One of the FBI agents who assisted declined to comment last week.

    The boys interviewed by investigators all said they wanted to go live with their parents or with Holding Out Help. None wanted to return to Jessop.

    In the living room of the Pocatello home, law enforcement officers found folding chairs facing a pulpit. Behind the pulpit was a large photo of Warren Jeffs. He is in Texas serving a prison sentence of life plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two girls who he took as polygamous wives.

    One of the FBI agents who assisted declined to comment last week.

    The boys interviewed by investigators all said they wanted to go live with their parents or with Holding Out Help. None wanted to return to Jessop.

    In the living room of the Pocatello home, law enforcement officers found folding chairs facing a pulpit. Behind the pulpit was a large photo of Warren Jeffs. He is in Texas serving a prison sentence of life plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two girls who he took as polygamous wives.

    One boy said he had been writing to Warren Jeffs in prison, asking to be allowed to return from his repentance mission. Some of the boys wanted to leave the FLDS faith.

    Vollmer wrote in her report that one boy repeatedly said he wanted to be an apostate, presumably so he could be expelled from the FLDS.

    At least some of the boys and parents saw each other for the first time in months or years on July 15, at a court hearing in Pocatello to determine where to temporarily place the boys. Vollmer’s report said one mother did not recognize her son when she saw him.

    Twitter: @natecarlisle


  10. Kindness could loosen FLDS grip

    Idaho State Journal, August 30, 2014

    The newspaper headlines and TV news reports this week about the FLDS church’s presence in Southeast Idaho caught everyone’s attention.

    A man named Nathan Jessop and nine boys were apparently exiled to our part of the state (and at one point Wyoming) so they could repent for their alleged sins. It’s safe to say imprisoned FLDS church leader Warren Jeffs sent them away and it’s really anyone’s guess as to why.

    Perhaps they got caught drinking milk or eating corn — two no-nos as far as Jeffs is concerned.

    Jessop and the boys eventually found lodging in the Gate City area — staying at homes in Chubbuck, Downey and Power County before taking up residence in a house off Pocatello Creek Road in Pocatello.

    When one of the boys escaped and blew the whistle on how Jessop was treating them, the Bannock County Sheriff’s Department and Prosecutor’s Office began to investigate.

    What authorities found is that Jessop was hitting the boys with boards and brooms, placing some of them in solitary confinement, exiling them outside in freezing conditions and barely providing them with enough food to survive.

    Neighbors said the boys were constantly trying to find food. They had apparently been taken away from their mothers’ in the middle of the night so they and Jessop could be sent on this misguided journey of repentance. We say “misguided” because the utter nonsense spewed by the FLDS church is widely known.

    Jeffs is currently in prison in Texas for having sex with underage FLDS girls.

    What’s truly tragic about the FLDS church is the grip that Jeffs and other church leaders have on FLDS members.

    It’s tough for the rest of us to believe anyone would be part of this religious cult but for those who’ve grown up in it — whose entire family is wrapped up in it — parting ways with Jeffs and the rest of the congregation is extremely difficult.

    Departing from the flock typically means leaving your entire support network of friends and family behind.

    How many of us could turn our back on everyone we know? Doing so is an incredibly painful process — made worse by FLDS leaders telling the disgruntled that they’ll burn in hell for leaving.

    Then there are the “Lost Boys,” those young male members of the FLDS church who many believe are sent packing because of the competition they’ll provide older male FLDS members for the faith’s female population.

    Members of the Mormon church and a growing number of organizations have thankfully stepped up to help the Lost Boys and others trying to leave the FLDS assimilate into society.

    But even with this outside help, it still takes a tremendous amount of courage to walk out on this weird and perverted faith.

    There are apparently still several FLDS people in Pocatello. Who knows exactly why they’re here.

    These folks might be on repentance missions or maybe they’re just hoping Southeast Idaho has greener pastures than Carson City, Ariz., or Hildale, Utah — the towns known for being the home of the FLDS faith. These FLDS people here in the Gate City have probably been told some pretty horrible things about those of us outside their religion.

    The best we can all do is prove Jeffs and company wrong about all of us alleged heathens.

    Everything we can do to show them that people outside their faith are not a bunch of monsters could help give them the necessary encouragement to distance themselves from a religion that looks favorably on some pretty outrageous things (while the FLDS church might see a middle aged man hooking up with an adolescent girl as love, the rest of us call it child sexual abuse).

    Let’s hope the FLDS in our midst learn from living in Pocatello that there is a good life waiting for them outside their church. That should be our goal every time we encounter these folks.


  11. Idaho polygamous sect follower in plea deal over child injury offenses

    BY LAURA ZUCKERMAN, Reuters September 3, 2014

    SALMON Idaho

    (Reuters) - A follower of a breakaway Mormon polygamous sect who came under public scrutiny after eight boys were taken from his Idaho home in a police raid will plead guilty to child-injury offenses in a plea agreement, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

    Nathan Jessop was cited with three misdemeanor counts of injury to a child last month for confining one of the boys in a tiny furnace room as punishment for alleged misbehavior and for failing to report two teens as runaways after they fled his home.

    Under the plea deal that must still be approved in court later this month, Jessop would serve 10 days in jail and two years of probation in the case, said Bannock County Deputy Prosecutor Ashley Graham.

    Prosecutors say Jessop was the assigned caretaker of boys banished from their polygamous sect to a so-called repentance home on the outskirts of Pocatello in southeastern Idaho for alleged infractions of church rules such as criticizing plural marriage.

    His job was to “reprogram” the teens for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and to remove them from a flock where they might compete with older men for young women wanted as wives, prosecutors said.

    The parents of the teens had agreed to the arrangement and several had not spoken with their sons for several years, according to a police report after the raid.

    The report said Jessop sometimes punished the children for alleged misbehavior by hitting them on the head with a stick and by forcing them outdoors in the winter for hours at a time and denying them food.

    The children were taught at the home by another sect follower, Tammy Jessop, who told authorities the discipline of the church was severe but that members of the faith “need to be prepared to follow and conform to the rules.”

    Of the eight boys, ages 13 to 17, seized from the home, two were placed in foster care and six others were returned to their parents, who are adherents of the FLDS sect led by imprisoned sex offender Warren Jeffs.

    Jeffs, 58, is serving a life term plus 20 years in prison for his 2011 sexual assault conviction relating to what his sect called "celestial marriages" to two underage girls at a religious compound in Texas.

    Nathan Jessop's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment after business hours on Wednesday.

    (Editing by Cynthia Johnston)


  12. Polygamist prophets followers have their days in court

    Vancouver Sun Staff Blog, October 2, 2014

    Another of Warren Jeffs’s followers has gone to jail. Jeffs is the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who is serving a life term in a Texas jail for sexually abusing two girls.

    The latest convict is Nathan C. Jessop, 49. The Associated Press reported that on Tuesday, Jessop was sentenced to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to abusing boys who were sent to Idaho on a “repentence mission”. Another 360 days in jail were suspended, KPVI-TV reported (http://bit.ly/YMOf3w ).

    Jessop told police the boys, ages 12 to 17, also were church members and were sent to him by their parents because they were disobedient. He acknowledged physically disciplining them, saying the boys were hard to handle and not well-behaved.

    Nathan Jessop acknowledged in court that he locked one of the boys in the furnace room. Prosecutors also said he failed to report that two other boys ran away. The nine boys were removed from the Pocatello home in July after a boy who escaped reported the abuse.

    Jessop is the son of high-ranking FLDS member Merril Jessop, who is serving 10 years in a Texas prison for presiding over the marriage of his then-12-year-old daughter to Jeffs.

    For those who have been following the FLDS story for a while, it bears noting that one of Merril Jessop’s wives is Carolyn Jessop. Since she escaped from his clutches, Carolyn has written two books — Escape and Triumph. She was also a witness in B.C. Supreme Court during the 2011 reference case that determined Canada’s polygamy law is constitutional. I wrote about her testimony during which she said that FLDS members often tortured babies.

    Not that far north of where Nathan Jessop was sentenced, three other FLDS members will be in court next week. On Oct. 9, four people from Bountiful will make their first appearance in provincial court in Creston.

    Among them are former FLDS bishop James Oler, FLDS followers Brandon Blackmore and one of his wives Emily (Gail) Crossfield and former FLDS bishop Winston Blackmore who heads a breakaway sect.

    Former FLDS bishop James Oler is charged with one count of polygamy and one count of child trafficking an under-aged girl from Canada to the United States under Jeffs’s orders.

    Brandon Blackmore and his wife are charged with one count of child trafficking, while Winston Blackmore is charged with one count of polygamy.


  13. LMN to Premiere New Documentary ESCAPING POLYGAMY, 7/14

    by TV News Desk Broadway World June 10, 2015

    LMN presents "Escaping Polygamy," a new original documentary series that follows the work of three sisters who left the Kingston clan, a secretive polygamist group based in Salt Lake City, Utah known as the Order, as they help both loved ones and strangers break free of polygamy. Six hour-long episodes are set to premiere beginning on Tuesday, July 14 at 10pm ET.

    The series follows three sisters - Andrea, Jessica and Shannell - who, over 10 years ago, bravely escaped polygamy. Now, their mission in life is to help other young men, women and children escape the abusive polygamous lifestyle into which they were born and raised, and manage their new lives on the outside.

    "Escaping Polygamy" gives viewers unprecedented access into the realities of this frightening and mysterious American subculture," said Laura Fleury, Head of Programming and Development, LMN. "Through the eyes of Andrea, Jessica and Shannell and the range of people they help, we experience the dramatic, spiritual rollercoaster that they must go through to break free of polygamy."

    In each one-hour episode, the sisters work with people who are in various stages of leaving polygamy - from those who are just at the point of recognizing they have to get out, to those who are actively seeking to escape, to others who are struggling to adjust to the realities of the real world and the very powerful temptation of returning to the only lifestyle they know. Viewers will learn that physically leaving the polygamous order is only the beginning of their journey.

    "Escaping Polygamy" is produced for LMN by RIVR Media. Dee Haslam, Rob Lundgren, and Lori Stryer are executive producers for RIVR Media. Laura Fleury and Jennifer Wagman serve as executive producers for LMN.


  14. Utah mother files lawsuit against Escaping Polygamy

    By NATE CARLISLE, Salt Lake Tribune March 22, 2016

    A member of the polygamous Kingston group has sued the makers of the television show "Escaping Polygamy" over an episode where the stars of the show tried to help her daughter move out of her Utah home.

    Susan Nelson says the production company RIVR Media inflicted emotional distress when it offered her daughter $5,000 per episode to appear on "Escaping Polygamy." Nelson also accuses a film crew of trespassing when it entered her home in Taylorsville in 2014.

    RIVR Media and A&E Networks are the lone defendants named in the lawsuit. A&E Networks airs "Escaping Polygamy" on the LMN channel.

    Neither RIVR Media nor the network immediately returned phone calls seeking comment on Tuesday. Nelson's lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Salt Lake City, does not specify a dollar amount sought.

    Dan Baczynski, the attorney for Nelson, said on Tuesday that the daughter, who was a young adult at the time, was pressured into leaving her family.

    "This is a young girl. They tell her she has the opportunity to be on TV," Baczynski said. "What young girl wouldn't say yes to that?"

    "Escaping Polygamy" follows Jessica Christensen and Shanell DeRieuxas they work to help young people wanting to leave, or who have recently left, polygamous sects. Christensen and DeRieux are former members of the Kingston Group, also known as the Davis County Cooperative Society and the Latter Day Church of Christ. Christensen, DeRieux and a film crew were on hand last month beside reporters as they watched federal agents in South Salt Lake raid offices of businesses associated with the sect. No charges have been filed in that case.

    Nelson's daughter was living with her in Taylorsville, and RIVR Media wanted the daughter to appear on the show "as an individual who has been convinced to leave her home," the lawsuit says.

    On Dec. 13, 2014, the daughter told Nelson "that although she did not want to move out, [the daughter] had already committed to RIVR Media that she would move in with some friends so she could participate in the television filming," according to the complaint.

    The daughter "disclosed to Susan that RIVR Media was pressuring her to move out of her home."

    Nelson was worried about the particular friends with whom the daughter planned to live and that they were involved in something illegal. Nelson, the lawsuit says, invited some other family members to her home to discuss alternative living arrangements for the daughter.

    The family was at the home when the daughter's friends, as well as DeRieux and Christensen, arrived. The lawsuit accuses them of "reaching through a doggie door at the rear of the home" to unlock a door and enter the house. One uninvited male then put his arm around the daughter's waist to remove her from the room, the lawsuit says.

    When the daughter said she didn't want to leave without some possessions, the male began to drag her, the lawsuit says. Meanwhile, Nelson claims, a cameraman from RIVR Media entered through the back door and began filming. Nelson was able to get the uninvited guests to leave the house, but they remained on the property filming through the windows, the lawsuit also says.

    Nelson says DeRieux, Christensen and the film crew entered the house again while waiting for police.

    A Unified Police Department office arrived, the lawsuit says, and opened a door to allow the daughter and her friends to retrieve some of her property. The film crew entered with her.

    The episode was aired the following July and portrayed Nelson as physically preventing the daughter from leaving, and had DeRieux and Christensen saying the home smelled of rotten vegetables, the lawsuit says. Besides trespassing and inflicting emotional harm, Nelson accuses the defendants of defamation.