FLDS continues abusive polygamist practices in Utah and Arizona

  • Handcuffed and flanked by Las Vegas SWAT officers, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs appears before a Las Vegas judge in 2006, shortly after his arrest on a Nevada highway. He was extradited to Utah to face charges related to rape.

    Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune
  • Jeffs is photographed in a series of poses with one of his child "brides," the 12-year-old daughter of FLDS bishop Fredrick Merril Jessop.

    Texas 51st Judicial District
  • TV shows like Sister Wives and major magazines have romanticized polygamy -- in stark contrast to what is revealed in the courtroom trials of FLDS leaders.

    Sister Wives photo courtesy TLC/Kyle Christy
  • The mugshots of Allan Eugene Keate, Abram Jeffs, Fredrick Merril Jessop and Leroy Johnson Steed, who -- along with the seven men pictured on the cover -- were convicted in Texas of either sexual abuse of a child, or bigamy or related crimes, in the last three years.

    Eldorado Success
  • Non-FLDS Utah polygamist Tom Green at his sentencing in 2002. Brought to trial after he flaunted his views on such shows as Dateline and The Jerry Springer Show, Green was convicted of bigamy and child rape. He served five years in prison.

    GEORGE FREY/AFP/Getty Images
  • FLDS women and children are escorted by Texas Child Protective Services workers to waiting buses after they were removed from the sect's YFZ Ranch compound in April 2008.

    Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune
  • FLDS members head toward the federal courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City in November 2008 to attend a hearing related to the sect's UEP land and trust.

    Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune
  • Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff -- a devout Mormon who has polygamists in his family tree -- has been hesitant to prosecute people who engage in that "lifestyle choice."

    Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune
  • Picturesque cliffs loom over Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. -- the traditional FLDS headquarters, known locally as Short Creek.

    Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune
  • The FLDS' Yearning For Zion ranch compound, near Eldorado, Texas, was the scene of some of the polygamy-related crimes for which Warren Jeffs and other sect leaders were convicted.

    Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune
  • A truck with heavily tinted windows follows Mohave County investigator Gary Engels through Colorado City in March 2006 -- in what appears to be an FLDS intimidation tactic.

    Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune

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FLDS children are being placed in intense "United Order" indoctrination camps that seem designed to separate them from their parents. "My husband of 28 years was ordered by the Bishop (Lyle Jeffs) to leave" Short Creek last Nov. 19, Suzette Steed said in a Feb. 26 affidavit. "I have not seen or heard from him since. ... I believe that he is trying to regain permission to return to his wives and children." Steed herself fled Short Creek with her six daughters on Jan. 29, because she feared that the United Order was going to forcibly separate the rest of her family. "My oldest daughter (who had just attended a United Order meeting) was shaking in fear (because) those admitted into the UO would now be required to cease all contact with everyone who had not qualified," she said. "Despite my life-long belief in the FLDS Church, this was too much to bear. Five of my young daughters had been admitted into the United Order, but I and my 12-year-old had not. The Bishop was using the United Order to separate children from mothers."

"Numerous cases have been documented where the ‘Marshalls' (in Short Creek) refuse to investigate serious crimes against the property and persons of ‘apostates' or other non followers of Warren Jeffs, when the perpetrators were followers of Mr. Jeffs," reported Arizona's current attorney general, Tom Horne, in February. "The ‘Marshalls' have also prevented enforcement of court orders with respect (to) who can occupy land. When a court appointed official came to Colorado City to enforce court orders, the Chief of Police pulled him over and threatened to arrest him for criminal trespass if he attempted to enforce court orders, as opposed to the desires of the FLDS Church."

A few FLDS policemen in Short Creek have been decertified by state agencies over the years, but this year, the legislatures in both Utah and Arizona refused to disband those police departments. Nancy McClain and Doris Goodale, who represent Colorado City, led Arizona's House of Representatives to narrowly kill the state's bill. Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan, who wants the Colorado City police department to be decertified, told CNN in a story aired May 9 that the Short Creek marshals "are doing only what the church wants them to do and what their (FLDS) leaders tell them to do."

The CNN video, on Anderson Cooper's 360 program, showed FLDS marshals patrolling Short Creek in an SUV with both towns' names on it. Private investigator Sam Brower, who's been tracking the sect since 2004 and has a new book about it (Prophet's Prey), told CNN that "the police force in Colorado City is without a doubt the most crooked police department in the country." Gary Engels, a Mohave County investigator, told CNN, "Things are getting much worse (in Short Creek). It's getting worse by the day, it's getting more fanatical."

Meanwhile, in late March, Texas state prosecutors persuaded a jury to impose a 10-year prison sentence on another FLDS leader, 71-year-old Wendell Loy Nielsen, for three felony convictions for bigamy. The San Angelo Standard-Times reported, "Jurors heard that, in addition to having 34 wives in total, Nielsen was a witness or officiant for 326 other marriages, 50 of them involving girls younger than 18 and down to age 12." In all, Texas courts have now convicted 10 FLDS men besides Jeffs, on charges related to polygamy or sexual abuse of children, handing out sentences ranging up to 75 years in prison.

In Utah, on April 30, Washington County Attorney Belnap said that he's considering possible criminal charges against FLDS members in Short Creek -- based on evidence collected by the Texans. "Authorities in Texas have begun sharing some of the billions of pages of evidence seized in the raid (on the Texas compound)," Fox 13 TV News in Salt Lake City reported. "A spreadsheet ... outlined hundreds of polygamous marriages -- including some involving children -- between FLDS members in Utah and Arizona. ‘We have received a great deal of the evidence from Texas,' Belnap said. 'They've been very helpful.' "

Debra Weyermann's book about the FLDS -- Answer Them Nothing: Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren Jeffs -- was published last year by Chicago Review Press. She's a former reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, now living in Florida, and has been writing about the West for more than 30 years.

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