Polygamist sects likened to mob

Federal task force, victim aid proposed

McClatchy Newspapers/July 25, 2008

Washington - A Senate committee on Thursday heard appeals for the creation of a federal task force to combat polygamist sects that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described as sophisticated organized crime rings.

Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott was among those backing legislation sponsored by Reid (D-Nev.). The bill would establish a task force in the U.S. Department of Justice and assist victims of crimes committed by polygamist groups.

The hearing, which included testimony from two former sect members, spotlighted the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) led by Warren Jeffs, who was once on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. Jeffs and five unidentified followers were indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in Texas.

Reid told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that polygamist sects are a "form of organized crime" that have spread into numerous states, as well as Canada and Mexico.

"I am not saying that they are the same thing as the crime syndicates that used to run Las Vegas," Reid said. "But they engage in an ongoing pattern of serious crimes that we ignore at our peril."

He cited a "web of criminal conduct that includes welfare fraud, tax evasion, massive corruption and strong-arm tactics."

Carolyn Jessop of West Jordan, Utah, who escaped an FLDS community in Arizona in 2003, said that Jeffs exerted a "tyrannical hold" on sect members and performed secret marriages between underage girls and older men. Boys and girls as young as 12 were forced out of public schools to work for FLDS construction companies and other businesses, in shifts that lasted from 6 a.m. until after dark, she said.

Dan Fischer, a former polygamist who now runs a foundation to help young people who have left the FLDS, said the sect has grown to "disturbing cult level proportions" under Jeffs' leadership.

"Without question, FLDS members will sacrifice self, family and children if directed to by their leader," he said.

Principle Voices, a polygamy advocacy organization, denounced Reid's bill. "If Reid truly cares about women and children in polygamy, then he should help them, not hurt them," the group said in a statement. "Principle Voices strenuously objects to any effort to characterize our families as anything but what they are: families."

The Mormon Church outlawed polygamy more than a century ago, but breakaway sects have continued the practice.

The FLDS was originally based at isolated locations in Utah and Arizona but has since moved to other states.

The indictments issued Tuesday charge Jeffs and four of his followers with sexually assaulting girls under the age of 17. A sixth member was indicted on three counts of failure to report child abuse.

FLDS representatives have accused the state of religious persecution.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.