HOUSTON Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is hinting at the possibility of prosecuting the women of the YFZ Ranch for bigamy.
In national TV interviews, Abbott said some women who have spoken to news reporters from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's Eldorado ranch appear to have admitted to bigamy.
"Questions were made to those women, and I think those women need to be asked some other questions," Abbott told the Fox News Channel on Wednesday. "The women were asked on national TV if they were married to men who were also married to other women. And they answered yes. That's a violation of Texas bigamy laws."
Abbott said the women have all declined to answer questions about underage marriages at the YFZ Ranch, and needed to be pressed on the issue.
The Texas Attorney General's Office would not say if it was actively pursuing a bigamy prosecution against the women, who first broke their silence in interviews with the Deseret News Saturday.
"Our office has been in frequent communication with law enforcement and prosecutors handling this case," Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland told the Deseret News. "However, at this time we wouldn't disclose the nature of those conversations nor discuss any ongoing criminal investigations."
Abbott's comments prompted Salt Lake attorney Rod Parker, who is representing FLDS families in Texas to respond, "I thought that the bigamy law was designed to protect women who are victims of a fraudulent marriage, If he (the Texas Attorney General) intends to prosecute these women then he is prosecuting the victims he is trying to protect."
Texas law precludes the Attorney General's Office from getting involved in most local criminal prosecutions without a request from local prosecutors, Strickland said. The attorney general has offered its assistance to the Tom Green County District Attorney's Office, which is handling the case.
"However, we are not involved in the prosecution of any offense at this point," said Strickland.
Abbott defended the decision to remove the 416 children from the YFZ Ranch, saying the children were in immediate risk, given the allegations that young women were at risk of being sexually assaulted by older men.
In Utah, prosecutors have only charged bigamy as an enhanceable offense when pursuing crimes against polygamy. That is mostly because of legal arguments that can be made about First Amendment rights to religious freedom and the practice of plural marriage.
Utah has successfully prosecuted polygamists Tom Green and FLDS member Rodney Holm for bigamy, alongside other offenses accusing them of marriages with minors.