The committee room is packed by the time Whitehouse bangs the gavel.
It's standing room only in the back of the room as U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn. give opening statements explaining that events in Texas have especially brought to light issues with crime and polygamist sects.
Whitehouse, who's in charge of the hearing, said that "child abuse, sexual abuse, fraud and other federal and state crimes" have originated in polygamous communities.
He praises U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for authoring legislation to create a federal task force and to offer grants to victims of polygamy.
Senate majority leader Reid begins his soft-spoken testimony.
"They are a form of organized crime," Reid said of polygamist communities.
Bigamy, child abuse, teen and pre-teen girls forced to marry older men and bear their children, along with a broader reach of crime, he said. Tax evasion and other systematic, sophisticated crimes, often spread across state lines, are carried out in sects.
Reid is the sole witness in the first panel, and he finishes by 9:18 a.m. after making a plea for a federal task force to work with states.
The second panel is sworn in, but there is still no sign of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican from Texas who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The next panel is sworn in and consists of the following: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott; Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard; U.S. Attorney Gregory Brower of the District of Nevada; and U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman of the District of Utah.
Whitehouse reads their bios, and Brower begins testimony.
He thanks the committee for the hearing and says he plans to provide the perspective of the Department of Justice and the tools and resources available from law enforcement to deal with the issues.
As federal prosecutors, our oath is to support and defend the Constitution, Brower said.
The DOJ does not target anyone based on his or her religious beliefs but seeks to target criminal activity, he said.
Two women dressed in the garb of the FLDS listen quietly from their seats toward the back of the room.
Polygamy is illegal in all 50 states because it's a state crime and not because of any federal statute, Brower said.
"Great efforts have been made," Tolman said after summarizing law-enforcement efforts, including those against FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs.
During Goddard's testimony, he noted that, "First, I'm talking about the FLDS, not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church."
His office's efforts isn't about discrimination but about applying the law, he said.
"My office has taken a systematic approach to restoring the rule of law to a community that has" been operating outside the rule of law, he said.
Goddard described the Short Creek fiasco of several decades ago and noted that FLDS members began fearing the state more than their abusers after the Short Creek raid.
The FLDS communities of today are geographically isolated, but authorities are holding monthly safety net meetings and have established outreach in the area, he said.
Five years ago, authorities saw almost no one coming forward to report crimes among the FLDS, but more than 1,000 people have been assisted by the safety net.
FLDS leaders such as Warren Jeffs have been ignoring and violating the law for far too long, he said. Step by step, authorities are making progress in bringing law to the area.
Abbott begins his testimony by explaining why he didn't stand to take the oath and describes the accident that led to his confinement in a wheelchair.
Two days ago, a grand jury in Schleicher County returned indictments against six suspects, all associated with the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, Abbott said.
Charges range from failure to report child abuse, to sex crimes to felony bigamy, he said.
It is a big challenge for state authorities acting alone to deal with criminal activities that cross state lines and international borders, Abbott said.
When one state enforces its laws, the FLDS leaders simply move their operations to another state, he said.
After a recent crackdown, the FLDS began moving.
Even Warren Jeffs managed to hide from authorities for more than a year, and he was on the FBI's most wanted list and had achieved notoriety, Abbott said.
State authorities could benefit from help by the U.S. Marshals and others in apprehending and arresting suspects, he said.
Plus, the FLDS is highly mobile and willing to move from place to place. Authorities need to be able to follow where the crimes lead.
He said given the nature of the FLDS and the crimes that might have been committed, a number of areas would have benefited from cooperation in: sharing and review of evidence gathered by states and federal government; dedication of federal and state resources in locating and assisting defendants; and assisting victims of FLDS crimes.
Tolman outlines crimes his office has investigated including violations of child labor laws, illegal sexual acts perpetrated against children, tax fraud involving individuals and businesses and a long list of other offenses probed since 2004.
"It is significant and important that we remember probable cause must be established," Tolman said.
Goddard reiterates that there should be no confusion between the FLDS and the Mormon Church.
The FLDS is a breakaway Mormon sect practicing polygamy, long abandoned by the mainstream Mormon Church, he says.
Goddard said the FLDS has thrived in isolation, and there must be cooperation across borders.
He supports a strike force or task force that will help overcome jurisdictional barriers.
Under questioning from U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Tolman said he agrees with Goddard that there is some confusion in distinguishing between the LDS and the FLDS.
Tolman said the LDS Church has long kicked out any members practicing polygamy.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, takes over questioning and goes again into the need to make a clear distinction between the FLDS and a "legitimate" church.
Cardin said he chairs the Helsinki Commission, which looks at human rights violations internationally.
What has happened with polygamist sects is as bad as anything he has seen in the world as women and children are denied basic human rights.
"It is difficult to understand how this could occur in the United States," Cardin said.
Cardin raises the problem of victims who say that when they went to authorities to report crimes within a polygamist sect, their reports were brushed aside.
Abbott said when the FLDS they came to Texas, it picked a county that was so sparsely populated, the FLDS sect would be able to step in and gain control of government apparatus.
Less than 700 people voted in Schleicher County, where the YFZ Ranch is, Abbott said.
Families torn apart, forced marriages, 'lost boys' don't seem like America
(JOHN L. SMITH, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jul. 27, 2008)
Carolyn Jessop is the one who got away.
Jessop sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and gave her heart-wrenching testimony about her life inside a polygamous sect. A mother of eight married to a polygamist as a teenager, she offered an eyewitness account of institutional abuse and criminal behavior cloaked in the cheap religious cloth of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As she spoke, a simple refrain tumbled over and over in my mind.
This happened in America.
Dan Fischer is one of many who were pushed away. Born and raised in a polygamist community, he considered himself a faithful believer until his eyes were opened when he saw his family torn apart by a single decision from FLDS false prophet Warren Jeffs. Fischer's testimony gave a glimpse of the plight of the "lost boys" of Southern Utah, young male members of the church who are kicked "out of town" when they commit the sins of questioning the prophet and showing an interest in members of the opposite sex.
Fischer has devoted recent years to providing a safe haven for the troubled young men.
This happened in America.
On Thursday, attorneys general from Arizona, Utah, and Texas told the committee of Jeffs' complex criminal network, one that crosses state lines and international borders, and practices everything from child and spousal abuse to money laundering and welfare fraud. "Bleeding the beast," as cheating the government is known in polygamist country, is big business in intensely insular FLDS communities.
This happened in America.
Not 100 years ago, or even 50. Despite increasing prosecution and a more coordinated interstate law enforcement effort, it's happening today.
That's what is so important about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's bill to establish a federal task force to focus on crimes committed by polygamists, and offer assistance to their victims. But while U.S. Attorney for Nevada Gregory Brower and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard noted the importance of increased cooperation and communication in criminal investigations that cross state lines and international borders, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman questioned whether creating a federal task force would be "too blunt an instrument" to effectively investigate polygamist sect criminality. As I watched him testify via webcast, Tolman gave the impression a task force would be incapable of developing informants and treading sensitively in polygamist country.
The problem with that view is that it lacks historical context. Until recent years, state and federal authorities were doing almost nothing to investigate the FLDS and come to the aid of those exploited and trapped by its leadership.
Anyone who has studied Jeffs' career knows a comprehensive, multistate approach will be essential in clearing up this blight that not only harms children and women, but has been an embarrassment to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for decades. With Jeffs already convicted of being an accomplice to rape and under indictment in multiple jurisdictions, the more salient question about the creation of a federal task force is whether it might be arriving too late.
For Reid, one of 16 Mormons in Congress, the bill appears to serve two purposes.
First, it focuses on the substantial and long-neglected criminality of the FLDS.
Second, its passage would help further distinguish the outlaw FLDS from the Mormon church in a very public and high-profile manner. Mormons experience ridicule in no small part because of the church's polygamist past.
Although attorneys for the FLDS shout about religious persecution, the fact is state laws prohibit plural marriage.
And although polygamy makes big headlines, it already has been shown to be among the least of Warren Jeffs' crimes.
"I am here to tell you that polygamist communities in the United States are a form of organized crime," Reid told the committee. "I am not saying they are the same thing as the crime syndicates that used to run Las Vegas. But they engage in an ongoing pattern of serious crimes that we must not ignore."
The best way to attack that criminal organization is to augment state efforts with a federal task force that also comes to the rescue of those trapped inside polygamist sects as well as those shoved aside.
Scores of Carolyn Jessops and lost boys depend on law enforcement's timely and comprehensive action.
This can no longer happen in America.
To establish a Federal Polygamy Task Force, to authorize assistance for victims of polygamy, and for other purposes.
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
July 23, 2008
Mr. REID introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008'.
SEC. 2. FINDINGS.
Congress makes the following findings:
(1) Despite the fact that polygamy has been illegal in the United States for over 100 years, the practice of polygamy involving underage marriages is growing. Sizable polygamist communities exist in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, and are expanding into other States.
(2) Polygamist communities are typically controlled by organizations that engage in widespread and systematic violations of State laws and the laws of the United States in order to enrich their leaders and maintain control over their members.
(3) The crimes perpetrated by these organizations include child abuse, domestic violence, welfare fraud, tax evasion, public corruption, witness tampering, and transporting victims across State lines.
(4) Due to the systematic and sophisticated nature of these crimes, State and local law enforcement agencies would benefit from the assistance of the Federal Government as they investigate and prosecute these organizations and their leaders for violations of State law. In addition, violations of Federal law associated with polygamy should be investigated and prosecuted directly by Federal authorities.
(5) The work of State and Federal law enforcement agencies to combat crimes by polygamist organizations would benefit from enhanced collaboration and information-sharing among such agencies.
(6) The establishment of a task force within the Department of Justice to coordinate Federal efforts and collaborate with State agencies would aid in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activities of polygamist organizations in both Federal and State courts.
(7) Polygamist organizations isolate, control, manipulate, and threaten victims with retribution should they ever abandon the organization. Individuals who choose to testify against polygamist organizations in Federal or State court have unique needs, including social services and witness protection support, that warrant Federal assistance.
SEC. 3. ESTABLISHMENT OF A FEDERAL POLYGAMY TASK FORCE.
(a) Establishment- There is established within the Department of Justice a Federal Polygamy Task Force, which shall consist of the Deputy Attorney General, the United States attorneys from affected Federal judicial districts, representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and any officer of the Federal Government whom the Deputy Attorney General considers necessary to strengthen Federal law enforcement activities and provide State and local law enforcement officials the assistance they need to address the illegal activity of one or more polygamist organizations.
(b) Purposes- The Federal Polygamy Task Force established under subsection (a) shall--
(1) formulate effective responses to the unique set of crimes committed by polygamist organizations;
(2) establish partnerships with State and local law enforcement agencies to share relevant information and strengthen State and Federal efforts to combat crimes perpetrated by polygamist organizations;
(3) assist States by providing strategies and support for the protection of witnesses;
(4) track the criminal behavior of polygamist organizations that cross State and international borders; and
(5) ensure that local officials charged with protecting the public are not corrupted because of financial, family, or membership ties to a polygamist organization.
Author testifies at national task force on polygamy
(Custer County Chronicle, August 7th, 2008)
During the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing July 24 on “Crimes Associated with Polygamy: The Need for a Coordinated State and Federal Response,” Stephen Singular, investigative journalist and author of 19 non-fiction books, testified.
The hearing was organized by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Singular said that since 1985, he’s been writing about the line where religion crosses over into criminal behavior. In early 2006, his wife, Joyce, suggested that he look into the story of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. Historically, he said, societies can be measured by how they treat women and children.
That spring, he began traveling to Colorado City, Ariz., interviewing townspeople, ex-church members and law enforcement.
“In 1953, Arizona had raided this community to root out the FLDS polygamous lifestyle, and had failed both legally and in terms of public opinion.,” he said. “Fifty years later, the state was employing criminal investigation techniques to target specific individuals who were breaking the law, and they were having success. Both Arizona and Utah were building a new approach to tackling what many have called religious terrorism.”
He continued, “One victory came with the capture of fugitive Warren Jeffs, the prophet or leader of the FLDS. In September 2007, he was convicted on two counts of accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her first cousin. Back in the 1970s, Jeffs was the principal of the FLDS-run Alta Academy, just outside Salt Lake City, and students there later described how he’d abused them emotionally and physically.
“His nephew, Brent Jeffs, eventually sued Warren and two of his brothers, alleging that when Brent was 5, they’d repeatedly sodomized him in a bathroom in the school basement. Brent’s brother, Clayne, another victim of these attacks, committed suicide. In 2004, when Brent filed a lawsuit against the prophet, Jeffs responded to this legal action the same way he had to the American government and our criminal justice system: he ignored them.
The rest of his testimony is as follows:
“As the FLDS prophet, he’s also ignored:
“1) The child labor laws of Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. Young FLDS boys were sent off to work in the church’s construction companies, and because they were hardworking and unpaid, the sect could underbid the competition and generate both private and government business. One FLDS-run company, New Era Manufacturing, has a Department of Defense contract for aircraft wheel and brake manufacturing worth $1.2 million. JNJ Engineering has an $11.3 million deal with the Las Vegas Valley Water District. A third FLDS company, Paragon Contractors Corp., has been fined more than $10,000 by the U.S. Department of Labor for employing 12- to 15-year-old boys, and not paying them.
“2) Jeffs ignored the Mann Act, which makes it illegal for minors to cross state lines for sexual purposes. As the prophet, he routinely commanded men to marry women and teenage girls in secret ceremonies in Caliente, Nev., across the border from the FLDS home base in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
“3) Jeffs ignored the laws against bigamy and underage marriage in Arizona and Utah, selecting the men who’d receive new brides and joining them in “spiritual marriages.” These “plural wives” with dependent children then became eligible for welfare payments " and welfare fraud. Colorado City has received eight times the welfare assistance of comparably-sized towns in the area. Despite violating these laws, Colorado City has been awarded $1.9 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pave the streets and improve the fire department and water system; more than $12 million a year from Arizona in health insurance premiums for the poor; and a $2.8 million airport from Washington, D.C. The FLDS openly despises the American government while taking its money, a tactic they call “bleeding the beast.”
“4) Jeffs ignored the fate of hundreds of teenage males in his community " known as “Lost Boys” "after they rebelled against forced child labor and his other harsh rules. He tossed them out of Colorado City and Hildale, leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets of St. George, Utah, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Some of the young men broke laws and were arrested, burdening local police departments and publicly-funded social services.
“5) Jeffs ignored outside law enforcement because the border towns’ police force was made up of FLDS members utterly loyal to their prophet. After Jeffs had gone underground to avoid arrest, Colorado City Police Chief Fred Barlow wrote him the following letter: ‘Dear Uncle Warren, I would first like to acknowledge you as the one man that was and is called of God to stand at the head of his priesthood and the Kingdom of God on the earth in this day and time. I rejoice in the peace that comes over me when I follow the directives that you have sent to me through Uncle William Timpson…I am praying for you to be protected and yearn to be with you again…And I know that you have the right to rule in all aspects of my life…’
“6) Jeffs ignored the genetic disorders caused by the sect’s inbreeding. In Colorado City and Hildale, Phoenix pediatric neurologist Dr. Theodore Tarby uncovered the largest occurrence in the world of a rare disease called Fumarese Deficiency, which produces overly large heads, misshapen brains, deformities, seizures and even death. The severe condition was one more drain on public monies needed for medical care.
“7) Following his arrest, Jeffs and his lawyers successfully fought efforts to get at FLDS financial records, stored on computers in the vehicle in which the prophet had been traveling. No complete picture exists of the FLDS income streams that supported Jeffs’ lavish fugitive lifestyle, paid his colossal legal bills or other vast expenses. In 2003, the FLDS bought the Texas ranch for about $700,000. Today it has an assessed value of $20.5 million. Where did all the funds come from for these improvements and for other purchases of land in South Dakota and more recently in Colorado? Has money been laundered or taxes evaded?
“Until the FLDS is thoroughly investigated by those with subpoena power, the full extent of the sect’s sexual abuse, forced marriage, underage marriage and financial schemes will remain unknown. A nationwide network now exists of people who’ve escaped the FLDS and understand its workings from the inside out. They’ve spent years trying to get law enforcement to investigate the sect more fully, are willing to testify against Jeffs and his church, and they’d welcome federal action. The FLDS has become both a national phenomenon and a national problem " creating generations of victims spread across the Southwest.
“None of this is about religious freedom or faith, and FLDS members should not be treated any differently from any other American citizen. This is about uncovering and prosecuting individual criminal behavior by those who’ve violated state and federal laws, which is the best way to stop those who terrorize in the name of God. I respectfully ask you to consider these words and warnings from someone who’s spent more than two years investigating this sect.”
Reid's bill stalled for now
(Brooke Adams, The Salt Lake Tribune, September 15, 2008)
My colleague Thomas Burr reported this morning that Congress will break without taking any action on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ''Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act.''
The bill would have created a federal task force to investigate crimes within polygamous sects and set aside $2.5 million in federal grant money yearly through 2012 to assist victims.
Reid made a pitch for the issue before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July but it never came up for a vote before the committee.
Reid told The Salt Lake Tribune that he recognized the effort would not go any where this year but vowed to keep pressing.
''This has not ended. This is not a one-shot deal for me. I'll be working on this,'' he told Burr.