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Utah, Arizona AGs feel fallout from FLDS raid

Published: Sunday, May 4 2008 12:30 a.m. MDT

Jeffs is now in an Arizona jail, facing similar charges accusing him of performing more child-bride marriages. Mohave County, Ariz., prosecutors have also secured sex crimes convictions against six FLDS men accused of taking underage brides.

Beyond the criminal convictions, Utah and Arizona moved forward with a crackdown on the FLDS Church, seizing control of its real estate holdings arm, the United Effort Plan Trust, placing the Colorado City School District in financial receivership and disciplining police officers in the border towns.

"One of the best things you can say about Arizona and Utah is (the FLDS) went to Texas to get away from us," Goddard said.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has had special investigators, dubbed "polygamy czars," look into crimes within closed societies. Still, prosecutions are few and far between. Authorities say that is because witnesses and evidence are difficult to secure.

Goddard said he intends to keep the pressure up.

"We've investigated thoroughly every complaint we get, and we don't hesitate to pull a kid out of the house where there is abuse," he said.

Culture shock

Both Utah and Arizona's attorneys general provided information about the FLDS Church to Texas authorities. Shurtleff testified before the Texas Legislature and encouraged lawmakers there to raise their marriage age in response to the FLDS Church moving in. But both Shurtleff and Goddard said they did not know the raid was coming.

Texas child protective services officials have said in court that the children on the YFZ Ranch were growing up in a culture that lends itself to abuse. Shurtleff said he can't reach the same conclusion.

"Let's say you're a 6-month-old girl, no evidence whatsoever of any abuse. They're simply saying, 'You, in this culture, may grow up to be a child bride when you're 14. Therefore we're going to remove you now when you're 6 months old,"' he said. "Or, 'You're a 6-month-old boy; 25, 30 years, 40 years from now you're going to be a predator, so we're going to take you away now."'

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake attorney acting as a spokesman for the FLDS, said he can agree with Shurtleff on one point.

"What Texas has done here is beyond the pale. I agree with Mark that the circumstances don't call for that kind of heavy-handed action," he said.

But Parker criticizes Shurtleff, accusing him of feeding a prejudice against the FLDS by making statements about the people as a whole.

"His role is to investigate and prosecute crimes and not to malign societies. This is a vulnerable group," Parker said. "He knows it. He would never go out and make these kind of negative remarks about any other group except polygamists."

The raid on the YFZ Ranch was prompted by someone claiming to be a 16-year-old named "Sarah," who said she was pregnant and in an abusive, polygamous marriage to a man named Dale Barlow. When Texas authorities responded, they said they found other signs of abuse. A judge ordered all of the children removed from the ranch and placed in state protective custody.

Authorities have dropped the warrant against Barlow, who lives in Colorado City, and are investigating whether the call was a hoax perpetrated by a Colorado woman with a history of making phony abuse calls. Both Utah and Arizona are investigating similar calls.

The backlash

The backlash from the Texas raid may hinder investigations into crimes within polygamy in Utah and Arizona.

"We've done a lot to establish trust and a lifeline," Goddard said.

He pointed to the Safety Net Committee, a group composed of polygamists, social service workers and government bureaucrats working to end isolation and combat abuse and neglect in polygamy.

"If suspicion and hostility reasserts itself, we may get cut off. If it works out well, we'll be able to at least do some damage control and make it clear that Utah and Arizona aren't Texas," Goddard said.

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