Deadline passes, polygamous sect spat unresolved

Salt Lake City, USA - Control of Warren Jeffs' polygamous church remains in limbo after a deadline imposed by Utah commerce officials passed without a resolution of the internal struggle.

The state Division of Corporations set a 6 p.m. Monday deadline for the parties to resolve the dispute over the presidency of the corporation that is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Commerce Department spokeswoman Jennifer Bolton said Monday evening the agency is still deciding which person will be legally recognized by the state as church president. Previously the department had said that if the parties hadn't resolved the issue themselves, the division would default to recognizing those church officers whose names were on file with the state prior to March 28 when the dispute began.

"The default position was kind of the textbook example, but it's hard to say whether this is a textbook situation," said Bolton. "So there has to be an evaluation of all the documents."

It's not clear how soon the department would issue a decision, she said.

The office has been in dispute since March when church bishop William E. Jessop filed papers seizing control from Jeffs, who is jailed in Texas on bigamy and aggravated sexual assault charges.

A Jeffs loyalist filed a counterclaim on his behalf, triggering an unprecedented public fight over the church.

A Utah court could be asked to resolve the issue, but neither Jeffs nor Jessop has moved in that direction.

Mark James, an attorney who represents Jessop, has said he has no immediate plans to involve the courts. Rod Parker, an attorney who represents the FLDS in civil court matters declined comment Monday and has said he has not been directly involved with the leadership dispute.

Neither side filed new documents with the state on Monday.

Over the past month, however each side has submitted multiple filings, each trying to legitimize its right to claim the presidency.

Jeffs, 55, took over the church in 2002 following the death of his father, the previous prophet, Rulon Jeffs.

In a string of affidavits, at least five FLDS church leaders have claimed that in recent meetings as many as 4,000 followers had cast a "common consent" vote to uphold a Jeffs presidency and alleged that Jessop is not a member of the FLDS church.

Jessop, 41, claims he was ordained by Rulon Jeffs to inherit the post and contends that Warren Jeffs acknowledged that in a series of 2007 telephone calls made from a southern Utah jail. The calls were recorded by jail officials and released as part of a Jeffs' 2007 Utah criminal case.

Jessop documented his own conversation with Jeffs in a commerce filing last week and then circulated the papers in a mass mailing to the 1,800 residents of the FLDS-dominated border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., on Friday, Willie Jessop, a former Jeffs spokesman, told The Associated Press.

William E. Jessop contends that since asserting his claim to the presidency Jeffs' closest advisers have tested the loyalty of church members and threatened them with excommunication if they waiver.

Jessop's own wife was evicted from her home over the issue two weeks ago, according to papers filed in a Mohave County, Ariz., court. The filing sought a protective order and injunction against harassment from two of Jeffs' brothers.

Incarcerated since 2006, Jeffs is now in a Texas jail awaiting trials later this year on charges of bigamy and aggravated sexual assault tied to alleged relationships with underage girls. A court has entered not guilty pleas on his behalf.