Ben Winslow, Deseret News
LAS VEGAS The top law enforcement authorities from Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Texas gathered in a closed-door summit here, mapping out a cooperative plan to go after crimes within polygamous sects.
Just blocks from the glitzy Las Vegas Strip, federal, state and local authorities met all day Wednesday at the U.S. Attorney's Office for Nevada. Those who attended told the Deseret News they exchanged information and pledged to work together. They mostly discussed the Fundamentalist LDS Church.
"We met a lot of people, exchanged a lot of cards, got a lot of contacts," said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. "I think it'll facilitate communications in the future."
Asked if the FLDS Church should be concerned about the four states joining forces to investigate any crimes within the group, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard smiled.
"You could draw that conclusion," he said.
This was not the joint federal-state task force that the Utah and Arizona attorneys general have sought. The meeting did come out of their very public spat with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who accused the two states of "doing nothing" about polygamy.
"We're just here to talk with one another about the issues we have in common," said Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.
The idea of a task force has been met with resistance from federal authorities. On Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the agency would assist local law enforcement, but it has other priorities. U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said he still did not believe a task force is necessary.
"This is an example of what is necessary," he told the Deseret News as he left the meeting. "Maintaining open, clear communication. There are agencies that are doing a lot, and those agencies need to talk to one another."
Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said the meeting was more for coordination, as the states work closer together on any criminal activity within polygamy.
"To meet counterparts from different states and share information and make contacts, I thought it was productive and valuable," added Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap.
Shurtleff said he would like to expand the working group to include Colorado, Idaho and other states where the FLDS Church has enclaves.
"I think everybody has concerns from what they're hearing and what they're seeing," Cortez Masto said. "I think for purposes of our state, we want to make sure we're vigilant and we're being proactive."
Authorities refused to say if an agreement was reached to share evidence seized in April's raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. At least 1,000 boxes of evidence were seized from the property including photographs of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs kissing a 12-year-old girl in a manner that Texas child welfare authorities described as "how a husband kisses a wife."
Clad in a trademark white cowboy hat, a Texas Ranger who attended the meeting declined to speak about the meeting.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss much," he said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has an ongoing criminal probe into allegations of abuse at the YFZ Ranch. It has been revealed that Texas authorities are investigating Jeffs' relationships with four girls, ages 12-15. Jeffs was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
Beyond the marriages, authorities have conducted probes into financial crimes and child abuse. Those investigations have been stymied by a lack of hard evidence or witnesses willing to step forward.
Tolman, who has acknowledged conducting a mafia-style racketeering and corruption inquiry into the FLDS Church, said any probes may be jump-started by the evidence seized at the YFZ Ranch.
"I do think that opening the lines of communication with the states that are dealing with the FLDS, and some alleged criminal activity, has only the potential of helping out what our investigation is," Tolman said. "It depends what evidence they find in Texas and whether they can share that with us."
A Texas judge ordered 440 children removed from the property in April after a call about abuse prompted a raid by law enforcement and CPS. The children were recently returned after an appellate court and the Texas Supreme Court found the state acted improperly in removing all of the children.
Authorities are investigating if the original calls that prompted the raid were a hoax.
Beyond the FLDS Church, Shurtleff said they discussed other polygamous groups in the West.
"We did bring up the Kingstons because they have multistate operations as well," he said.
Goddard said Utah and Arizona have set the standard for state and local officials sharing information across borders to combat crimes within closed societies."The border isn't a sanctuary for illegal activity," he said.
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