Since December 2017, Alan Mortensen, an attorney from Utah, has been looking for a man named Seth Jeffs.
If that last name rings a bell, it’s because Seth is the brother of Warren Jeffs – the self-proclaimed “Prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, which is a Mormon offshoot known for, among other things, rampantly marrying underage girls to grown men. These days, Warren is in prison, eight years into a life sentence for sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 14. He called them his “spiritual wives.”
But that was just a sample of the way Warren ran his church. Over the years, he married something like 80 women and children. And his brother, Seth, was allegedly a witness to and a broker of “religious sexual rites” with young girls, according to a civil lawsuit Mortensen filed against him two winters ago.
This lawsuit in particular – the reason Mortensen has been searching for Seth for 13 months – concerns a woman referred to only as R.H. in court documents. A quick warning: The incident details are upsetting.
When R.H. was just 8 years old, she says, some of Warren’s cronies showed up in her house, placed a bag over her head, and led her away, driving her to an unknown location. As soon as she got there, the bag was taken off her head, and her clothes were removed. She was then forced to perform “vaginal, oral, and other types of sexual acts” with Warren, according to the complaint – all while Seth and some of the other church higher-ups sat back and watched.
Warren allegedly told her if it hurt, it was because “God was unhappy with her.” If she cried, “God would punish her.”
R.H. says this happened to her again and again, five to six times a week, until she was 12. When she turned 14, she says she was forced to watch these “rituals” being performed on other young girls -- and record what happened in detail – as a “scribe.” There was little she could do, the complaint says. She was just a kid, and she and her family were dependent on the church for support and shelter.
Warren has already been served his court papers; he was easy enough to find in his prison cell. But Mortensen could never seem to get his hands on Seth long enough to serve him. That is, until earlier this month, when he got a tip that Seth was in Minnesota – living in a vacation home in Cook County he had been hired to renovate.
Seth wasn’t just living in Minnesota. By the looks of it, he was buying land there, too. A sale finalized in August by a company called Emerald Industries, LLC – of which Seth is a “managing member” – made him the owner of 40 acres of remote land between Lutsen and Grand Marais.
According to public records obtained by KARE 11, Seth had been planning to build a 5,760 square-foot facility on the spot. Mortensen believes he might have used church money to make the deal.
“If past behavior is an indication of future behavior, he would use it to start a religious colony,” Mortensen told KARE 11 as he sedately stared through his windshield at the snowy property.
There was little on the land when Mortensen went to check it out – just some construction equipment and a big sign that said “PRIVATE PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING.” Seth was nowhere to be found.
But not long after, a mail drop in Eden Prairie and a house in Bloomington were found listed on Seth’s business records. That’s where, KARE 11 reported on Thursday, Mortensen caught Seth in his driveway, called his name, and said he had some papers for him. Seth, a tall, narrow man in a white baseball cap, glanced down at the court documents as Mortensen walked away.
Now that Mortensen has found Seth, the lawsuit involving R.H. can finally move forward. And it likely won't be the last. Mortensen says he hopes Seth did use church money to purchase the North Shore property, so it can be seized as compensation for a 2017 lawsuit against Seth and the church: the case of another child bride named Elissa Wall.
For the community of Grand Marais, there is hope that the legal filings will put a definitive stop to the development of Jeffs' compound.