A federal judge has awarded $152 million in damages to ex-members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) over abuses they suffered while in the Utah-based polygamous faith.
In a judgment issued late Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart ordered the large amount of damages to be paid by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
The verdict follows a trialfirst reported on last year in which ex-members of the faith testified about forced marriages, rapes and other abuses they suffered while in the church, and for which they blamed Jeffs.
"People that have hurt us in the past will not get away with it. It means everything to us," Ruby Jessop said in an interview last year, describing what it meant for the case to finally go to trial.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Roger Hoole, said in a statement on Friday that he was pleased with the verdict.
"The judgment will send a clear message about the terrible things clients suffered at Jeffs’ hands and the harm that so many other former and current members continue to suffer. The judgment is largely symbolic and will be challenging to collect, but it will help vindicate the harms suffered by the FLDS under Jeffs' reign," he wrote.
Any assets Jeffs still may have are likely scattered across the country as still-faithful FLDS members have left Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., under increased scrutiny and pressure.
As he has done in nearly every piece of litigation leveled against him since he was convicted of child sex assault related to underage "marriages," Jeffs simply refused to respond to the lawsuit, so he was found in default judgment.
Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison in 2011.
In depositions in other lawsuits, he has consistently refused to answer questions beyond his name, citing his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Jeffs appears to still lead the FLDS Church from a Texas prison cell.
Last year, a new edict sought to call people back to the FLDS church. That edict has alarmed ex-members who claim that family members have vanished as a result of the "revelation." They have pleaded with law enforcement to do more to investigate the disappearances. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office says it is monitoring the situation surrounding Jeffs' edict.
This story was originally published by Ben Winslow at Scripps News Salt Lake City.
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