Officials: Polygamy crackdown warrants task force - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Officials: Polygamy crackdown warrants task force

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Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 3:15 pm

SAN ANGELO, Texas - On June 11, 2008, top cops from Arizona, Nevada and Utah walked out of a meeting in Las Vegas excited about the prospect of banding together with federal authorities for a multistate effort to fight crimes related to polygamy.

The task force still hasn't materialized.

Federal authorities apparently remain cool to the idea, but state officials in Texas, Nevada and Utah remain hopeful. They see a glaring need for a coordinated state-federal effort to investigate allegations ranging from tax evasion to the sexual assault of underage "celestial" brides in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The polygamist sect is a sophisticated criminal organization whose members flow freely across state and international boundaries to evade prosecution, officials said. The historic raid at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas in 2008 helped set the tone for the Las Vegas meeting.

"This was truly a multistate problem," said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. "None of us are going to solve it alone."

The U.S. Department of Justice assisted by sharing evidence for a while after the meeting. "But within a year, nothing was happening," Shurtleff said.

Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard doesn't believe this month's conviction of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs -- for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old -- has made a task force any less crucial today than it was several years ago.

Fresh from a San Angelo courtroom where a jury had just handed down guilty verdicts for Jeffs, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he still supports a task force.

In July 2008, Senate House Speaker Harry Reid of Nevada had introduced the Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act, a bill designed to coordinate state and federal efforts to investigate and prosecute in federal and state courts, protect witnesses, track criminal behavior of polygamist organizations crossing borders and make sure local officials aren't corrupted because of ties to polygamy.

The bill went nowhere.

Even without a task force, there's been federal involvement. In 2008, a federal search warrant was executed at the YFZ Ranch. Earlier, the FBI assisted in Jeffs' capture by putting the FLDS prophet on its 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list in May 2006, based on state warrants. The FBI also issued its own warrant for him for flight to evade prosecution. That August, Jeffs was arrested during a traffic stop in Nevada.

Texas state Rep. Drew Darby, a Republican from San Angelo, has been instrumental in calling for reforms.

"I would support Sen. Reid in creating some sort of task force that would look at how we improve communication between law enforcement from the various states and encourage support efforts that will protect these children in these various states," Darby said.

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