Neighbors wary of FLDS polygamist ranch

Man was convicted of three counts of bigamy, sentenced to 10 years

By Jennifer Rios
San Angelo Standard-Times

SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — Anna Luna lives four blocks down from the Schleicher County ranch that spurred national attention just more than five years ago.

“I just stick to myself and my family,” she told the San Angelo Standard-Times. “They don’t bother me; I don’t bother them.”

Her sentiment is one shared by other Eldorado residents who are more concerned with graduation or local crime than the release from prison last week of a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Luna didn’t recognize the photo of Wendell Loy Nielsen that ran in the Eldorado Success newspaper, nor is she concerned that he was released from prison after just more than a year of confinement.

Nielsen, a 72-year-old FLDS member, was released from the C.T. Terrell Unit last week after serving 13 months in prison. He was convicted of three counts of bigamy and sentenced to 10 years in March 2012. Time served was considered in setting his release date.

“I think that’s behind us,” Luna said about the April 2008 raid on the compound and the ensuing jury trials.

Nielsen was one of a dozen men charged in the aftermath of the raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado. He was sentenced to three 10-year sentences, to run concurrently, and began his sentence March 27, 2012, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Nielsen was up for parole review April 25, TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said, and was granted parole by the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.

In the time since Nielsen was sent to prison, County Road 300 has become far less congested — like the YFZ Ranch itself.

Cattle and chickens no longer are visible from aerial shots of the property, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said, but it appears a vegetable garden has sprung up.

“They’ve moved a lot of people and equipment off the property,” he said.

In November 2012, the Texas Attorney General’s Office filed search and seizure paperwork in 51st District Court in Schleicher County, seeking to take over the 1,600-acre YFZ Ranch owned by the FLDS members. The attorney general alleged in a 91-page filing in November that ranch residents “engaged in, and/or acquired the property with the intent to commit, felony offenses upon the property and within the buildings and
improvements of this property.”

The felonies alluded to in the filing include the child sex assault offenses that sent several of the sect members to prison in the past four years, harboring FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs when he was a federal fugitive, and money laundering.

Beyond regular patrols of the area, the Sheriff’s Office only has dealt with the ranch’s residents when they assist the attorney general in serving civil process, Doran said. No problems have arisen from those dealings.
He said the department kept up normal procedures, even during the raid, but that now it has returned to the normalcy it saw before 2008.

Doran described Nielsen, who was booked into the Schleicher County Jail after his conviction until his transport to prison, as a compliant inmate.

Despite a lack of residents, the ranch still is paying city and hospital taxes — $262,182 for 2012, according to the city tax office.

“It’s a huge impact,” Jani Mitchell, Schleicher County’s chief appraiser, said.

This year’s taxes won’t be due until October. Coupled with county taxes, the ranch supplies about half a million in tax revenue for the city and county.

Justice of the Peace James Doyle and his son continue to fly over the ranch on a regular basis, taking photos which they display on their website, When he first started, he would see women and children run under trees for cover as the plane went over.

In the past, FLDS men would be seen occasionally in town, Doyle said, buying fruit drinks and driving new pickups. Women and children were only spotted working — gathering prickly pear and rocks for the concrete mixer.

Now the streets of the ranch are empty, save for a few vehicles parked at buildings.