Sheriff says news reports are 'hype'
Custer County Sheriff Phil Hespen, suddenly besieged by news organizations from around the country last week, Friday described the situation surrounding a 100-acre parcel of land near Pringle as "all hype so far."
Hespen said occupants of the property in Custer County "probably are the same group (as those at a strikingly similar ranch in Texas) but how do we know?" He said nobody has confirmed any sightings of federal fugitive Warren Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous sect calling itself the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

"The FBI will catch him sometime, somewhere, but law enforcement has to deal with facts," Hespen said. "It is no surprise that the FBI is looking for him. They have been looking for him all along."

Hespen said he understands all the sudden attention a news story out of Texas has cast on Custer County.

"They have a totally different lifestyle than ours, so they're hard to understand," he said of the group which allegedly occupies the land southwest of Pringle inside the Custer County line. However, Hespen pointed out, whoever occupies that property "has been here for 2 1/2 years."

The spotlight on the remote section of rugged terrain in Custer County was turned on by a story in the March 9 issue of The Eldorado Success, a newspaper in the hill country of west Texas south of San Angelo. That paper had sent author Jon Krakauer and private investigator Sam Brower to the Black Hills after anonymous tips were submitted to the newspaper by e-mail and telephone. Those tips gave details about the 2003 purchase of the land by David Allred, president of Details Unlimited, Inc. in Utah.

The Eldorado newspaper said Allred is the same man who purchased what is known as the YFZ Ranch, a 1,600-acre property near Eldorado where members of Jeffs' FLDS group live. According to the newspaper's story, Krakauer and Brower found buildings on the Custer County parcel of land similar to those on the Texas property.

The tips submitted to the newspaper also revealed that Z-Trans, Inc. trucks, which are seen on a regular basis going to and from the property near Eldorado, have been seen in Custer County.

Hespen said there has never been a confirmed sighting of Jeffs here and there has been no reason in the 2 1/2 years since the property was purchased in 2003 for law enforcement personnel to investigate the premises. Neighbors have reportedly heard ongoing construction noise on the property, and while that may be annoying, it is not a law-breaking offense in the county.

Custer County officials have said taxes on the property have been paid in full and on time and necessary building and wastewater permits have been secured. The land now belongs to an entity called United Land Management.

The FBI has a $50,000 reward available for information leading to Jeffs' apprehension and conviction. He is a fugitive, according to The Associated Press, because he fled Arizona when charged for sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He allegedly arranged a marriage between an older married man and a 16-year-old girl. An Associated Press story did say persons in the area of the property near Pringle are certain they have seen Jeffs.
Originally published March 16, 2006