For years, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's office has been conducting criminal investigations into the Fundamentalist LDS Church and its leader, Warren Jeffs — including an organized crime probe.
But those investigations appear to have taken a back seat to other criminal cases coming out of last year's raid on the polygamous sect's YFZ Ranch.
"We don't have stuff ready to even talk about bringing charges," Shurtleff told the Deseret News. "Besides, with everything going on in Texas and Arizona, our office is waiting."
Law enforcement from Utah, Arizona, Texas and Nevada met in Las Vegas just weeks after the raid to begin sharing information on the FLDS Church. It led to the creation of a database, where information and evidence would be shared among the states.
"The sharing of information is kind of an organic process and until it results in a prosecution, it's hard to say whether it's working or not," Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said Friday. "I still believe it was a good step forward. I've heard of cases — including some we're working — that have benefitted from the cooperation of agencies."
He declined to elaborate.
"I haven't received a lot of stuff that has Utah implications," Shurtleff said.
In Utah, Jeffs was convicted of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is serving a pair of five-to-life sentences. In Arizona, the FLDS leader is facing criminal charges accusing him of performing underage marriages. In Texas, Jeffs and 11 other FLDS men were indicted by a grand jury on charges related to underage marriages ranging from sexual assault and bigamy to failure to report child abuse and performing an illegal marriage ceremony.
In a recent interview, FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop called the criminal cases "selective prosecution."
"When they get their day in court, I'm confident the truth will prevail," he said.
The search warrants that allowed law enforcement to seize hundreds of boxes of dictations, diaries, photographs and other records of FLDS members is facing challenges from defense attorneys for the FLDS members. A hearing on a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing it was illegally obtained based upon a hoax call, is scheduled for May in Texas.
A federal investigation into the FLDS Church is also quietly proceeding. The existence of a possible federal grand jury was revealed in deposition transcripts filed in court in both Arizona and Texas. In both instances, law enforcement and FLDS members refused to answer questions based on the federal investigation.
"There are federal investigations involving money laundering, mail fraud, wire fraud, Mann Act violations in federal court, in addition to any allegations being investigated by the state authorities," FLDS member Willie Jessop's lawyer, Kent A. Schaffer, said in a deposition in one of the custody cases.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the northern district of Texas declined to comment Friday on any pending cases or ongoing investigation. The Mann Act deals with transporting minors across state lines for the purposes of sex. The FLDS have denied abusing their children.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also hinted at reinvigorating his idea for a federal task force to investigate crimes within polygamy.
Shurtleff said that with Jeffs in jail and the FLDS being more open, his office is in no hurry to level any prosecutions. The Utah Attorney General's Office has also been busy trying to settle the legal quagmire involving the FLDS Church's United Effort Plan Trust, which controls property in Utah, Arizona and Canada. A settlement conference is scheduled to take place later this month.
"I think we can resolve it," Shurtleff said.
Goddard worries the Texas raid one year ago will have a lasting impact on future efforts to help abuse victims within the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
"I have always felt that the raid created some unfortunate tensions and was disturbingly similar to experiences we had in Arizona in 1953, which we spent a great deal of time trying to overcome," he said. "I don't question the motives of law enforcement in Texas, but I thought the methods were heavy-handed and the results predictable."
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