GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — A leader of a notorious religious group that preaches polygamy and marriages involving children has relocated to Minnesota and is buying land.
Records obtained by KARE 11 show that a company in which Seth S. Jeffs is a “Managing Member” recently purchased 40 acres in a remote area near the Superior National Forest west of Grand Marais.
“If past behavior is indicative of future behavior, they would bring people to start a religious colony,” said Alan Mortensen, a Utah attorney who thinks Jeffs may have moved to Minnesota to avoid a lawsuit alleging that he allowed and witnessed the ritualistic rape of a young girl.
Religious sexual rituals
Mortensen has filed a civil lawsuit in Utah accusing Seth Jeffs and other leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) of participating in “religious sexual rituals with underage girls” involving Seth’s brother Warren Jeffs, the group’s so-called Prophet.
Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 after being convicted of sexual assault involving two girls, ages 12 and 15, he took as wives.
Mortensen represents another young woman identified in court papers as “R. H.” She claims that as part of a FLDS religious ritual she was sexually abused by Warren Jeffs “on a regular basis, between five and six times a week, from the age of 8 years-old” until she turned 12. When she turned 14, she says she was forced to become a “scribe” documenting the abuse of other young girls in the sect.
The lawsuit claims that in his role as a “Priesthood Leader” Seth Jeffs witnessed the abuse by his brother and participated in the rituals.
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“He allowed it to happen and he witnessed it happening over and over and over to a young girl,” Mortensen told KARE 11.
Relocating in Minnesota
Ever since he filed the abuse lawsuit in December 2017, Mortensen says his law firm has been trying to locate Seth Jeffs.
His break came earlier this month when Mortensen said he got a tip that Jeffs might be working as a handyman and living in a vacation home he had been hired to renovate in northern Minnesota.
“We’ve gotten reports that he’s been living up here, remodeling a cabin that no one lives in,” Mortensen said.
And not just living there - but buying property.
Using public records, KARE 11 documented that a company in which Jeffs is “Managing Member” purchased 40 acres located in a remote, rugged area between Lutsen and Grand Marais. Records indicate the cash sale was finalized in August.
When KARE 11 visited the heavily wooded property we saw an entrance road, what looked like a bobcat-type construction vehicle and a sign saying “No Trespassing.”
Records show Jeffs received a permit in December to build a 5,760 square-foot building on the property.
Following the search
KARE 11’s cameras were on hand over the course of three days as Mortensen tried to find Jeffs and serve official legal documents.
The attorney checked both northern Minnesota locations multiple times.
“No one’s home, unfortunately,” he said after stopping at the cabin.
But KARE 11 was able to discover business records in which Jeffs listed two addresses in the Twin Cities area. There was a mail drop in Eden Prairie and a house in Bloomington.
That’s where we spotted Jeffs – and watched as the attorney finally served him with court papers from Utah.
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“We had process servers trying to serve him on several different matters all over the country, and he’s always slipped through,” Mortensen said moments later. “So, this is a big day.”
Minutes after the legal papers were served, KARE 11 reporter A.J. Lagoe knocked on the door asking to speak to Jeffs. Nobody answered.
Attempting to seize property
While in Minnesota, Mortensen also filed documents aimed at placing liens on Seth Jeff’s property – including the 40 acres in northern Minnesota.
The court papers involve a $16 million judgment another child bride is trying to collect. Elissa Wall won her case against Warren Jeffs and the FLDS church in 2017.
Mortensen told KARE 11 he believes the cash used to buy the Minnesota property came from FLDS church-related funds. If a court agrees, victims could seize the property.
KARE 11 spoke to people who live on the North Shore who are concerned about the possibility of the religious sect establishing a compound there.
Now that Jeffs has been located, they say they hope the pending abuse lawsuit and existing judgment will prevent any development.