Task Force: Polygamy Crime Bill Proposed

By Steve Tetreault

Juky 23, 2008

Reid pushes plan to help sect's victims

WASHINGTON -- A bill to be introduced in the Senate today would establish a federal task force to combat polygamy-related crimes while offering grants to social service agencies that help former members of polygamous sects.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was preparing to submit the bill and to promote it at a polygamy hearing the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled for Thursday at his request.

The "Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008" would establish a task force to focus on abuse, extortion, witness tampering, embezzlement and other illegal activities suspected to be associated with polygamous groups, according to Reid's office.

"The federal government has a duty to help fight the serious state and federal crimes committed by these groups," said Reid, who is one of 16 Mormons in Congress.

"My bill will improve federal enforcement, create a stronger federal-state partnership, and help the victims of abuse get out of these situations so they can start a new life," Reid said.

The legislation would offer $2 million in grants to state and local police agencies to pursue suspected crime links to plural marriage communities.

Another $2 million would be authorized to provide witness protection, housing, child care, mental health services and other services to people trying to escape polygamous relationships.

Reid has compared polygamous groups such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to organized crime syndicates, and has called on law enforcement to approach them as such. The FLDS practices polygamy in Hildale, Utah, and neighboring Colorado City, Ariz., and at its Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado, Texas, which was raided by state authorities in April.

Warren Jeffs, leader of the 10,000-member FLDS, was sentenced in November to two consecutive terms of five years to life in Utah. The sentences came after he was convicted on two charges of being an accomplice to rape in connection with a marriage he performed in 2001 between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

On Tuesday, Jeffs, 52, was indicted by a Texas grand jury on sexual assault charges. Five followers also were indicted on a variety of charges.

In September 2006, and again this spring, Reid called on the Justice Department to become involved in investigations of polygamist activities in Western states.

Reid's call for a federal task force has drawn mixed reaction. In June, FBI director Robert Mueller said at a Salt Lake City news conference that he did not see a need for one, but that the agency would continue to assist local authorities at their request.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently appointed a senior Justice Department official to work with officials in Utah, Arizona and Nevada to review how the department can help investigate and prosecute polygamy-related crimes.

U.S. Attorney for Nevada Gregory Brower is among the scheduled witnesses for Thursday's hearing, along with attorneys general from Arizona and Texas, and Brett Tolman, the U.S. attorney from Utah.

Also listed to testify at the Senate hearing are former FLDS member Carolyn Jessup, and Stephen Singular, the author of "When Men Become Gods," a book about the FLDS and its leader Warren Jeffs.

Dan Fischer also is scheduled to testify. He is a Utah businessman and dentist and former FLDS member who helps others who have left the group.

No current members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were listed to testify at the hearing.

Principle Voices, a pro-polygamy group, has called on Reid to allow current FLDS members to speak.

"The FLDS should have the right to answer allegations leveled at them during this year," the group said in a July 18 posting on its Web site.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault or 202-783-1760


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.