Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
Thu, April 25

Get a Grip: Polygamy again

Finally.

The heat is rising in Colorado City and at last it's not just due to summer.

At last, the public has proof of fraud of abuse in the polygamous northern Mohave County city.

Colorado City is a tiny, scenic community divided from the rest of the county by the Colorado River and Grand Canyon.

The town's isolation is deliberate.

When mainstream Mormons were forced to renounce polygamy in 1890 in exchange for Utah statehood, many refused to give up the practice of taking multiple wives.

Early Mormon doctrine taught that taking many wives was the only way for a man to attaint the highest reaches of heaven.

In addition, women were taught that only by submitting to their husbands as multiple wives would they be eligible for salvation on their husband's coattails.

So when the church suddenly reversed itself, many fundamentalists felt abandoned.

Those who continued the practice of polygamy were excommunicated.

It is a handful of these outcasts who dug in at the community north of the Grand Canyon.

Colorado City and adjacent Hildale, Utah, straddle the Arizona/Utah border.

The confused jurisdiction is another complication for authorities trying to crack down on abuses in the community.

A reporter for Phoenix's alternative weekly paper, The New Times, spent months researching a series of stories he wrote for that paper.

The series reveals what many have long suspected: Colorado City is rife with corruption.

What remains to be seen, however, is how county and state officials react to the information.

Utah, to its credit, has finally begun to address the questions of abuse within polygamous communities.

The most frequent accusations are of child abuse in the form of taking child brides.

In the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints girls are regularly assigned to join much older men as 'celestial wives.' A celestial wife is not a wife by law – this eliminates a legal paper trail that could be used to prosecute polygamists.

Celestial marraiges are conducted by the FLDS prophet.

Right now, that's a man named Warren Jeffs.

It is Jeffs alone who controls the entire community of the faithful.

Church doctrine permits him to assign wives to men in his favor or take wives and children away from men who displease him.

The New Times investigation revealed that Jeffs himself is listed as the father of a baby born in 2001 to Lori Steed who, figuring a normal gestation, was 17 years old at conception.

In Utah it is a felony for a man to have sexual relations with a 16- or 17-year-old girl if the man is more than 10 years her senior.

Warren Jeffs is 47.

He also is reported to have more than a dozen other wives.

He has, however, been charged with no crime.

Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow has accused those who criticize the FLDS with interfering with the community's right to freely practice its religion.

But religion is not the issue in Colorado City.

The horror of girls being assigned as sexual partners to older men they may not even know is just one of many issues state and county authorities have studiously ignored over the past half-century.

For years the community has been the target of complaints of welfare fraud.

'Celestial wives' are said to apply as single mothers to quality for food stamps and aid for themselves and their many children.

Another startling revelation of the New Times investigation is related to the public school system.

It was well reported in 1998 when then-prophet Rulon Jeffs, father or Warren, ordered his flock to remove their children from public school.

Public school, he said, provided too much contact with the evils of the outside world.

The ever-obedient faithful responded and hundreds of students were withdrawn and many teachers quit.

In an April 20 New Times story, journalist John Dougherty reports that the fallout from the exodus directly benefited the church.

Many school supplies, computers, furniture and even a school building, were no longer needed.

So the district (whose board is all FLDS) sold the equipment to the church at fire-sale prices.

After students were withdrawn from the public schools, the church stepped in to continue their education.

How convenient that all these materials came on the market at such good prices just when they were needed most.

Beyond that, the decimated public school district continued to receive large cash infusions from the state of Arizona.

The school board used the money to travel to education-related functions around the country.

They traveled so much, The New Times reports, they decided to buy a private plane – with taxpayer money, of course.

So now, the question is, whose responsibility is it to prosecute crime in Colorado City?

No one, not the county sheriff or county attorney, not the state attorney general, not even the FBI, wants to take on the FLDS.

In light of the evidence now before them, it's time for someone to get serious about crime in Colorado City.

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