Jeffs regains leadership of FLDS church in Utah

Warren Jeffs regained control of his polygamous church on Wednesday after a four-month internal struggle for the presidency of the corporations that comprise the entity.

The development came on the deadline set by the Utah Department of Commerce for both sides to provide a resolution, or a court order settling the dispute.

Commerce spokeswoman Jennifer Bolton said Wednesday evening the department hadn't received any new filings, so the agency would now recognize Jeffs again as the corporation president.

In April, William E. Jessop filed papers with the state ousting Jeffs as president of the corporations that make up the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

A tug of war began when Jeffs loyalists filed a counterclaim, saying Jessop was not a member of the church.

Two legal entities form the church — the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, which holds business and property assets, and the Corporation of the President, a separate entity embodied by the faith's religious leader who is considered a prophet.

Jessop filed papers to remove Jeffs from both offices. But commerce officials in May said the former church bishop had failed to prove he had the right to do that.

In a split ruling, the agency said it would continue to recognize Jeffs as the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop office holder.

The agency also said it could never determine who is president of the church, although it must still determine who has the authority to make changes to the principals for either church corporation.

On Tuesday, an attorney for Jessop said he had no plans to file any documents with commerce before the deadline and indicated that a dispute over church leadership remains active.

Mark James said the commerce department has no real authority to decide the dispute and the deadline holds no legal significance.

"Mr. Jessop continues to hope this matter will be resolved consistent with the will of the members of the FLDS church," he said in an email to The Associated Press.

Rod Parker, an attorney who represents the FLDS church, declined comment Wednesday, saying he had not been directly involved with the leadership dispute.

Jeffs, 55, has led the church since the 2002 death of his father, Rulon Jeffs.

Affidavits filed with the commerce department claim that more than 4,000 church members have sworn their allegiance to Jeffs by a show of hands during an April church meeting. Despite his incarceration in Texas, Jeffs has continued to speak by phone weekly to followers gathered at a church meeting house in Colorado City, Ariz., one of two towns on the Utah-Arizona border where most FLDS members live.

Jeffs is currently on trial in Texas on sexual assault charges for alleged wrongdoings with underage sect girls. A court has entered a not guilty plea on his behalf and Jeffs is defending himself. A second trial on a bigamy charge is set for later this year.

If convicted, Jeffs would still be recognized by Utah commerce officials as the legal representative of the FLDS church unless a court directs the agency otherwise, Bolton said.

Jessop, 41, contends Jeffs ceded the presidency to Jessop in 2007 during a telephone call Jeffs made while incarcerated in a southern Utah jail. Jessop also said Rulon Jeffs ordained Jessop with the authority to lead the church.