Las Vegas neighbors glad 'strange bunch' is gone


Lukey Corral might be the happiest homeowner living next to a foreclosure. After five years, her neighbors finally moved out for good about a week ago.

Gone are the grinding and sawing noises that filled the night air. Gone are the diesel-powered pickups that rumbled up the street at all hours. Gone are the boys in overalls and women in bonnets.

Best of all, gone are the worshippers who followed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for having sex with underage girls he took as wives.

"They were a strange bunch," she said. "I'm glad they're gone."

From her house next door, Corral watched closely when Jacob N. Jessop and his family moved into the two-story home at 5800 Gilbert Lane in northwest Las Vegas.

The family stood out, and not only for their 1800s-era clothing.

"When they first moved in, there were four wives and 14 kids," Corral said. "Then there were more wives and lots more children."

The family, neighbors soon learned, were members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which believes polygamy is the key to heaven.

The sect makes its home in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., about 160 miles northeast of Las Vegas. But during the construction boom last decade, hundreds if not thousands of Jeffs followers moved to Southern Nevada, where FLDS companies made millions in construction work.

Jessop founded and ran JNJ Engineering Construction Inc., whose work included government contracts for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the city of Las Vegas.

FLDS observers have said the lucrative companies funneled cash to their church and Jeffs, who went on the run in 2005 when Arizona authorities charged him with arranging sex between men and underage brides.

During that time, Corral and fellow neighbor Judy Donohue swear they saw Jeffs on their street.

Twice they called the FBI after spotting a tall, thin man making brief nighttime visits in a fancy SUV. But no one believed them, they said.

After more than a year on the lam, Jeffs was arrested in August 2006 after a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper pulled over a Cadillac Escalade heading north on Interstate 15 just outside Las Vegas. The SUV contained three wigs, 15 cellphones, several laptop computers and $54,000 in cash.

Not long after Jeffs' arrest, things changed at the Gilbert Lane house, near Ann Road and Rainbow Boulevard. The women and children vanished from the property during the week and returned on the weekends, piled into 15-passenger vans, Corral said.

The men and their trucks remained, however, as did the all-hours work going on in the backyard, she said.

Foreclosure notices started coming in early 2010. In January, the 2,851-square-foot home was sold for $297,000, less than a third of the $1 million mortgage.

Before the sale, Corral and Donohue toured the house. The inside had been gutted and hastily rebuilt to maximize the number of bedrooms, they said, and each of the roughly dozen bedrooms contained a framed photo of Jeffs.

The home's residents started moving out about two months ago, packing up pickups and driving off in the middle of the night.

Donohue said she followed them once to a neighborhood on the northwestern edge of Las Vegas.

"We just kept hoping they were going back to wherever the hell they were from," she said, "but they weren't."

Corral and Donohue believe Jessop and other FLDS money makers remain in Las Vegas, earning cash in the name of their leader.

Though the polygamists still live here, the women are relieved they are someone else's neighbors now.

"I can't say anything nice about them. Can you?" Donohue asked her husband, Pat.

"No," he replied. "I'm just glad they're gone."

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

 

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