Lehi police investigating Utah polygamists featured in new TV show

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 28 2010 12:36 a.m. MDT

Kody Brown and his current wives, Christine, left, Meri and Janelle, are the subject of the TLC program "Sister Wives."

TLC

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LEHI — A polygamous Lehi family featured on a new TV series that debuted Sunday night has drawn the attention of local police.

Kody Brown and his wives are the subject of a TLC program called "Sister Wives." Lehi police in a statement released Monday evening say they are now investigating the family for bigamy, a third-degree felony.

"At the conclusion of the investigation, the evidence will be forwarded to the Utah County Attorney's Office for review and possible prosecution," according to Lehi Police Lt. Darren Paul.

TLC spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg had no comment Monday night on the investigation.

Producers of the show apparently feared the Browns could come under legal scrutiny. They contacted the Utah Attorney General's Office months before airing the program.

"They called us and said, 'Hey, are you going to shut us down?' " said Scott Troxel, spokesman for the attorney general.

"Sister Wives" premiered Sunday night with an hourlong special, the first installment of a seven-part "docu-series" about Brown and his three wives — Meri, Janelle and Christine — and their 13 children. The series began with Brown announcing plans to take on another wife, Robyn, and her three children.

A TLC news release describes the show this way: "From their unconventional family structure and living arrangements to financial challenges, each half-hour episode exposes the inner workings of a polygamist household, revealing the unexpectedly tight-knit and loving relationships between Kody's wives." Also, the show "captures the intense dynamics surrounding a man juggling three wives while attempting to keep it a secret from the outside world."

Troxel said the Utah Attorney General's Office doesn't have the resources to go after polygamists unless it suspects crimes such as child abuse or child trafficking.

"Right now, it's not in our hands, but we're not closing the door," he said.

The Utah County Attorney's Office became aware of "Sister Wives" after receiving several phone calls Monday, said Tim Taylor, chief deputy county attorney.

"Obviously, we can't do anything until we get a case," he said before Lehi issued its statement announcing an investigation. "We haven't seen anything. I don't know if we will see anything."

Taylor said the county occasionally prosecutes people under its bigamy statute, though not necessarily polygamists. "We'll take a look at any case that comes into our office to see if it has merit," he said.

In 2001, one of Utah's most high-profile polygamists, Tom Green, was convicted in Provo's 4th District Court of bigamy and failure to pay child support. He also was later found guilty of child rape.

Prior to his convictions, Green and his family talked openly about their lifestyle on international and national TV programs, including "The Jerry Springer Show," "Dateline" and "Judge Judy." Prosecutors said they didn't start investigating Green until seeing him on TV.

e-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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