CUSTER (AP) – A compound in South Dakota’s Black Hills that was owned by a secretive polygamous sect has been sold at auction to three former members who broke with the sect years ago.
Blue Mountain Ranch LLC, representing Patrick Pipkin, Seth Cooke and Andrew Chatwin, paid $750,000 for the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints' 140-acre compound at a Custer County sheriff's auction Thursday.
The county had valued the nine-parcel property at more than $9 million. The compound, surrounded by trees and barbed-wire fencing, includes numerous buildings and a watchtower.
Pipkin said he left FLDS about 15 years ago and no longer believes in its teachings, the Rapid City Journal reported.
“I do want people to know that the corruption of this church is coming to an end,” he said. “We are part of that side that’s helping correct and make a difference here and other places where there’s other locations they supposedly own.”
The sect still owes nearly $1.7 million to Pipkin, Cooke and Chatwin as part of a 2017 legal settlement in federal court. The men were allegedly detained and unlawfully jailed in Arizona after being accused of trespassing on property the sect had leased to them.
Their lawsuit alleged that the local marshal's office and other elected leaders were “handpicked” by the FLDS church, which conspired to illegally arrest and prosecute non-members.
A judge ordered the sale of the compound to help pay the judgments.
Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley earlier said about 20 adult FLDS members who were still living on the property would leave once it was sold.
Pipkin said some of the people that remain are relatives.
“It’s kind of a family dispute situation working through it,” he said, adding that the group has no immediate plans for the property.
Mechaley said the $750,000 will be applied to the judgment against the property.
The FLDS is an 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 religion abandoned the practice in 1890 and prohibits it today.
Seth Jeffs, who authorities say once led the FLDS compound in South Dakota, is the brother of Warren Jeffs, whom the group considers a prophet who speaks for God. Warren Jeffs is serving a life prison sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered to be his brides.