A business entity connected to a leader of a controversial religious sect has purchased 40 acres in rural Cook County and obtained a permit to build a 6,000-square-foot pole barn with living quarters, raising questions about whether it will be used by the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints.

The religious sect separated from Mormonism in 1890 after the church renounced polygamy. Since 2001, the FLDS has been headed by Warren Steed Jeffs, who was sentenced in 2011 to life in prison plus 20 years on convictions of two counts of child sexual assault involving underage members of the sect.

His brother Seth Steed Jeffs was convicted in 2006 of harboring or concealing him. In 2016, Seth Jeffs also pleaded guilty to food-stamp fraud as part of a federal investigation into the practice of diverting benefits to church members.

KARE 11 reported Thursday that a Utah lawyer had been looking for Seth Jeffs since December 2017, when the attorney filed a lawsuit accusing Jeffs of witnessing the ritual child abuse by his brother and did nothing about it.

The lawyer, Alan Mortensen, said Seth Jeffs had been doing some handyman work on a woman's cabin in Cook County. She saw a news program about FLDS and recognized Jeffs, Mortensen said. Word got back to Mortensen, and he served Jeffs on Monday with a notice that he'd defaulted on the Utah lawsuit.

"We're going after his assets. He's an alter-ego of the church," Mortensen said.

He said Jeffs also faces "a bunch of court orders for child support and unpaid alimony against him, and now people know where to find him."

WTIP Radio in Grand Marais reported Thursday that Jeffs had been living in a cabin near Caribou Lake since August.

Asked about the news reports, Jeffs, 45, said Friday, "There's no truth there but it's not going to do me any good to say anything." He declined to say more.

Public records show that Jeffs is a licensed contractor and pilot. He lives under his own name in Eden Prairie. In October, he formed a business in Minnesota called Emerald Handyman LLC, which operates as Emerald Craftmasters. On Aug. 8, an entity called Emerald Industries LLC bought the undeveloped Cook County property for $88,000. That entity listed an address at Jeffs' Eden Prairie apartment; other business records show it also had an address in Helena, Mont.

Emerald Industries took out a building permit to erect a pole barn with "living space" on the Cook County property, though so far, the only development is a new, 900-foot driveway, said Cook County Assessor Todd Smith.

An FLDS 140-acre compound in South Dakota's Custer County has been embroiled in controversy for years. It's surrounded by fencing and tall trees and includes a guard tower. A news report last year said authorities don't know how many people live at the compound, and that Jeffs was one of the FLDS representatives who refused to answer questions about that.

A spokeswoman for Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen said Friday that media attention has raised concerns in the community about Jeffs' past. Eliasen said his office was "keenly aware" of the situation but added that if Jeffs is not breaking any laws in Cook County, his officers "would not invade his personal life."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493