SOUTH JORDAN Dan Fischer is conflicted.
He is considered an "apostate" because he left the Fundamentalist LDS Church; yet he also wants to help family members inside the polygamous sect, whose children were taken from them in the Texas raid on thue YFZ Ranch. He feels empathy for his kin, yet he also abhors the abuses he says exist in the FLDS community.
Fischer has devoted part of his life and his dental-products manufacturing fortune to helping teenagers kicked out of the polygamous sect, and he is now trying to help mediate the massive custody battle between Texas and the FLDS people. He recently traveled to San Angelo, Texas, where he says he met with officials for Texas child protective services and a representative of the FLDS Church.
"What is most important, here and now, is what occurs going forward," he said.
The invitation was initially made by a member of the FLDS Church, Fischer said. He declined to say with whom he met.
"I asked him what it was in regards to, and he explained that they were looking for whatever help they could get," he said in an interview with the Deseret News. "Why me?"
Fischer, a dentist who founded the company Ultradent, left the FLDS Church in 1996. He has sheltered people leaving the FLDS Church and created a foundation to help the so-called "Lost Boys." They are teenagers who have either been kicked out or run away from the FLDS Church over its strict codes of conduct.
Still, he flew to Texas, accompanied by attorney Roger Hoole, who has represented numerous ex-FLDS members suing the church.
"He is someone who could assist both sides in exploring solutions," Hoole said of Fischer. "If there's interest in that."
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services confirmed the meetings took place, but declined to say what was discussed. An FLDS official contacted by the Deseret News said he was unaware of an invitation extended to Fischer.
Fischer said he told both sides that solutions will not be easy to come by.
"I recommended to CPS that everything possible be done to reunite these children with their mothers as soon as was reasonably possible," he said. "I can understand, however, CPS's justifiable concern that these mothers have to be strong enough that they can prevent their child from being abused."
Fischer said it is critical that the fathers of the children taken in the raid also come forward and give DNA samples, even if it does reveal they fathered children with underage girls.
"We cannot accept the marriage of underage girls as a religious right," he said, adding that the states have a duty to protect children from abuse.
Last month's raid on the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, was prompted by a phone call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old "Sarah," who said she was pregnant and in an abusive marriage to an older man. A Colorado woman is considered a "person of interest" in the calls, as authorities investigate whether they were a hoax. Texas authorities insist it doesn't matter if it was a hoax call, because when child protective services workers responded to the ranch, they saw evidence of sexual abuse.
Fischer blamed the Texas raid and the problems of the FLDS Church on its leader, Warren Jeffs.
"I believe it's vitally important that these people somehow come to grips with the goofiness of their leader," Fischer said. "There's many good people. There's many innocent people there that are caught up as victims."
With 464 children in the custody of Texas CPS, the situation has many trying to reach out to help.
At a town hall meeting in St. George on Thursday, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff asked how many from the fundamentalist communities had family members involved in the raid. Hundreds of hands shot up. Shurtleff then asked how many would be willing to take in the seized children as "kinship placements" in a foster care situation. The hands remained high in the air.
"There have been contacts by people from Texas to their apostate relatives, saying 'Will you take my kids?"' Hoole said.
One man who was ordered to "repent from a distance" by FLDS leaders drove 1,200 miles from his home in Nevada to Texas to give a DNA sample last month.
"I do know there have been a couple of former members floating around who believe their children are involved in this and are trying to find a way to assert their parental rights," said Rod Parker, an attorney who is acting as a spokesman for the FLDS Church.
In the end, Fischer agreed to help where he could.
"I've given a lot of thought to it," he said.
Fischer declined to say what exactly he agreed to do to help, but said he is working on a "long-term solution" that has some initial support of some FLDS and some CPS.