Polygamous town officials enter pleas in funds case

Published: Thursday, Aug. 25 2011 11:09 p.m. MDT

KINGMAN, Ariz. — Two officials from the polygamous sect-run town of Colorado City, Ariz., pleaded not guilty Tuesday to allegations that they misused public funds earmarked for a regional fire district.

Fire Chief Jacob Barlow and City Manager and fire district treasurer/secretary David Darger entered the pleas in Mohave Superior Court in Kingman, Darger's attorney Anne Chapman said. Both remained free on their own recognizance.

Colorado City and its twin community of Hildale, Utah, are dominated by followers of Warren Jeffs, the convicted child sex offender and Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader. Church members serve at every level of government services and administration.

A Mohave County, Ariz., grand jury returned separate indictments against Barlow and Darger on Aug. 4 — the same day a Texas jury convicted Jeffs, although the timing was coincidental, Deputy Mohave County Attorney James Schoppmann has said.

Barlow and Darger were indicted on felony charges of violating the duty of a custodian of public money, participating in a criminal syndicate and assisting in a criminal syndicate. Barlow faces a combined 30 counts, and Darger faces 13.

Chapman, of Phoenix, said the indictment stems from alleged technical violations of state laws.

"I don't think there will be that much in dispute" once its clear how the fire district funds were used, she said.

Barlow's attorney, Michael Piccarreta, could not be reached Tuesday, but last week told The Associated Press that he considered the indictment "frivolous."

Mohave County's investigation into the Colorado City Fire District began in January 2008 after a St. George, Utah, restaurant manager said he believed Barlow used a fire department credit card to buy dinner for his wife.

Court papers show officials deemed questionable some other purchases, including a trip to Lava Hot Springs in Idaho, restaurant meals, a clock/radio docking station for an iPod, clothing and furniture such as a computer workstation, an armoire and a pair of leather sofas.

Prosecutors also contended tax money to fund the fire district was inappropriately withdrawn from one bank account by Darger and Barlow and transferred into different accounts.

In April 2010, sheriff's deputies served search warrants on fire stations in Colorado City and its sister city of Hildale, Utah, for documents and computer files containing financial records. Warrants were also served on Barlow and Darger's homes.

The fire district covers a 225-square-mile area along the Utah-Arizona border and serves Hildale through an inter-local agreement. The district has about six full-time staff members and 100 volunteers, including firefighters and paramedics.

The district's budget for 2009 was about $1.5 million.

A judge set the next hearing in the case for Sept. 26 in Kingman.

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