Polygamy Hearing: There May Be a Role for Federal Government

Deseret News
July 22, 2008

When someone mentions an organized crime family, certain names come to mind. Corleone. Genovese. Gambino.

Not Barlow, Jessop or Jeffs.

Unless you are U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.

Reid, the U.S. Senate's majority leader, has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to conduct a hearing this Thursday on how to coordinate a state and federal response to crimes associated with polygamy.

Reid contends that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a crime syndicate that has engaged in bribery, extortion, fraud, embezzlement, witness tampering and labor violations. In other words, a crime family. He wants the Justice Department to launch a federal racketeering investigation.

We don't know whether that is a fair characterization, though we have heard some of the same allegations. What we do know is that the FLDS community is spread across several states and Canada. The interstate and international scope of the FLDS suggests a federal role in criminal investigations.

We continue to believe, however, that prosecution of polygamy per se should not be the government's primary focus at either the state or federal level. Instead, it is more important to bring to justice those who commit child abuse, child sexual abuse, rape, incest and fraud within polygamous communities.

That has been the focus of Utah's cases against polygamists. It matters less whether a perpetrator has one wife or two or three than it does that a young woman or other person has been the victim of sexual assault or forced into a marriage at a tender age against her will.

Since family law traditionally has been the legal province of the states, it makes sense that the states would prosecute such cases.

But if the federal government can bring its resources to bear on violations of federal law, such as exploitation of child labor or defrauding the federal government of welfare benefits, it should, assuming there is evidence.

That said, we do not wish to prejudge the FLDS. Like all other Americans, they are entitled to the presumption of innocence. We hope that the comments of Sen. Reid and the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona, among others at the hearing, will shed further light.


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