‘Corruption coming to an end’

Jason Ferguson

“I want to let people know the corruption of this church is coming to an end. We are a part of the side that is helping correct and make a difference here and other places they own.”
Those were the words spoken by Patrick Pipkin after he and two other former Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) members—Andrew Chatwin and Claude Seth Cooke—were the successful bidders for the now-former FLDS property in southwest Custer County when it was sold to the highest bidder at a sheriff’s sale last Thursday morning at the Custer County Courthouse.
Pipkin, Chatwin and Cooke purchased the property for $750,000, and did so by bidding against $1.7 million in judgments they are owed by the FLDS that stems from a federal lawsuit they filed after they were illegally arrested and harassed by the FLDS in the towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., two FLDS strongholds also referred to as Short Creek.
That means the trio won’t have to actually pay for the property, and are still owed around $1 million by the FLDS.
After the auction, Pipkin said in a meeting with the press that he grew up in Colorado City and Hildale, and ironically, was part of the FLDS group who helped facilitate the purchase of the Custer County property for the FLDS in 2006.
“I’m aware of what is there and the whole situation there,” he said.
Pipkin said he left the FLDS around 15 years ago. He said he still has family in the FLDS and the situation is “kind of a family dispute.”
Pipkin said he experienced a wide-range of emotions in the days leading up to and the day of the auction.
“A lot of the people out there helped build and pay for this place,” he said. “It’s a good thing to see justice served and this kind of corruption come to an end. We want the people to know it’s changing and coming to an end.”
Pipkin said he isn’t sure who is still on the property (Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley has said he believes there are less than 20 people still left on the property) but it is his understanding they are going to leave the property, although under the law those who live there have a one-year redemption period, during which the FLDS could make good on the money owed. In other similar cases, the FLDS has not attempted to pay the judgment or keep the land, but instead has walked away from the property.
Pipkin said he appreciates the people of Custer County, as well as the attorneys, judges and Mechaley as they have worked through this process.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” he said.
Pipkin said he wanted the people of Custer County and the communities of Custer, Pringle and Hot Springs to know the three men do care, and they appreciate those who have an understanding of the corruption of Warren Jeffs.
“There is a whole other side of the people who grew up in this religion who are not a part of or affiliated with him at all,” he said. “Myself, I’m not religious at all (and don’t) believe any of the teachings or nonsense they taught.”
While the Custer County compound was once bustling with activity, the FLDS members living there have apparently dwindled. Five years ago several FLDS leaders were arrested and charged with food stamp fraud, including Seth Jeffs, who led the Custer County compound. Warren Jeffs is the self-proclaimed “prophet” of the FLDS who is serving a life sentence in prison for sex crimes.
While the compound once had around-the-clock construction that irked neighbors and caused trepidation in the area, little activity is reported there these days, if any.
The judgment stems from a lawsuit filed by Prairie Farms, L.L.C., Claude Seth Cooke, Patrick Pipkin and Andrew Chatwin against the Town of Colorado City, Ariz., City of Hildale, Utah, the FLDS and three FLDS members over what they claimed were illegal arrests and discrimination against the former FLDS members in the two towns on the Arizona-Utah border known as Short Creek.
The lawsuit states that officials in the two towns arrested them for trespassing on land they were leasing, that the marshal’s office failed to investigate reports of vandalism on the leased land and that Colorado City officials refused to provide water and garbage services to the property, according to an article in the Phoenix New Times.
The complaint stated the violations are the result of a conspiracy between the FLDS church and the towns’ officials to “punish, discriminate against and attempt to drive out of Colorado City and Hildale persons who were not believers in the FLDS faith.”
The result of that lawsuit as well as another lawsuit in which a federal jury found the FLDS had discriminated against non-FLDS members resulted in the $2.1 million judgment for the plaintiffs. In working to collect the judgment, FLDS property in Montezuma County, Colo., was foreclosed upon to satisfy part of the judgment, leaving the $1.7 million owed.
The illegal arrest issue that spawned a lawsuit began with a report to the marshal’s office of vandalism at the site of Colorado City’s former zoo, according to the Phoenix New Times story.
United Effort Plan, which holds the deed to most of the land in the towns, had leased the land to Prairie Farms, LLC, which planned to use it for cattle. When a United Effort Plan agent holding the lease told town police of thousands of dollars of damage on the property, a responding officer said he had been told by the marshal’s office that one resident, Chad Johnson, was still living on the property.
The dispute continued as the FLDS-backed law enforcement said until Johnson was properly evicted he had sole rights to the property. Eventually, Pipkin and Chatwin were arrested by the marshal’s office, charged with trespassing and released. The two eventually returned to the property with  Cooke and were arrested again.
The article goes on to say when Prairie Farms tried to obtain garbage and water services from Colorado City, they were told the service would not be initiated until the previous registrant, Red Jessop, gave his permission. Jessop had been dead for several years.
The men alleged their First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. The trespassing charges against them were eventually dropped.
According to the Custer County Treasurer’s Office, the valuation for the 140 acres and all of the buildings on it is $7,849,513. The FLDS paid $122,150.44 for 2019 property taxes payable in 2020.
Two parcels at the compound have no buildings on them, while the rest have a variety of buildings, according to records at the Custer County Register of Deeds Office.
Pipkin said the three did not yet know what they would do with the property, but that they planned to go out to the property to see what was there.
The auction was held in the lobby area near the sheriff’s office at the Custer County Courthouse. Around 40 people were in attendance, with six bidders registered. Sgt. Derrick Reifenrath handled the auctioning duties, and first asked if anybody would like to bid the $1.7 million owed in the remainder of the judgment.
When no such bids were received, Reifenrath called for a bid of $1 million and again received no bids. He then lowered the starting bid to $500,000, and Pipkin and his group went back and forth with Terry Peak Chalets’ Rob Huber. After Huber bid $560,000, Pipkin bid $750,000, which was matched after the bidding stopped for a five-minute break.


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