Arizona Attorney General Sues Two Cities Dominated by Polygamous Mormon Sect

Courthouse News Service/July 2, 2010

Phoenix - Attorney General Terry Goddard has backed up a disabled man's claim that a utilities company run by the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denied him water and electricity because he did not have a building permit, though the utility does not require such permits from sect members. Goddard's Superior Court complaint against Hilldale-Colorado City Utilities supports Ronald Cooke's claim that the sect "instructed members that apostates were tools of the devil."

Cooke sued the utility company and the Town of Colorado City in Prescott, Ariz., Federal Court. Goddard's complaint in Maricopa County Court tracks Cooke's claims.

Goddard agrees that in July 2000, leaders of the fundamentalist sect "instructed members that apostates were tools of the devil, and that there were dangers in associating with apostates."

Goddard agrees with Cooke's claim that he needs running water to clean his catheters, bathe and to avoid infections after a traumatic brain and spinal cord injury he suffered in 2005.

Cooke was raised in the FLDS religion and grew up in the Colorado City, Ariz. area, but left the religion at age 18 or 19. Cooke returned to the town in 2007 and was denied water service in 2009 after Utility Board President Jonathan Fischer claimed that "no new families would be placed in homes not previously connected to the water systems," Goddard says.

In his complaint, Cooke said that "people often live in unfinished homes in Colorado City for years during construction without getting new building permits." Cooke said the lack of utilities exacerbated his medical problems.

Cooke applied to the United Effort Plan, a Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints housing cooperative that owns many houses in Colorado City, and began moving his family into an unfinished house that had been abandoned by its former owner. The defendants allegedly refused an offer on Oct. 29, 2009 by United Effort Plan to "trade an existing water service connection on UEP land, so that Cooke could have a new water service connection."

But the utility provided water and electric services to other unfinished homes without new permits, and Colorado City issued no new building permits between 2005 and 2009, according to the complaint.

Cooke says it's all part of an FLDS scheme to exclude nonmembers from Colorado City and its sister city, Hilldale, Utah. He claims the sect sees nonmembers as "tools of the devil."

"Defendants and their agents, in order to support the religious doctrines and aims of FLDS, have denied nonmembers ... utility services and commingled governmental funds with church funds, thereby depleting revenues which should be legitimately used to provide utility services at the expense of residents of Colorado City," according to his complaint.

"Defendants have treated the governmental agencies that they control as arms of the FLDS religion, and utilized the powers and resources of these municipal entities to attempt to exclude nonmembers of FLDS, such as plaintiffs."

Goddard seeks declaratory judgment that the defendants violated the Arizona Fair Housing Act by denying Cooke's request for "reasonable accommodation necessary to afford Cooke an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling in Colorado City, and did not pose an undue burden for defendants." He also wants the defendants to connect Cooke's property to the municipal water system.

Cooke says that the utility recently began providing him with electricity, but continues to withhold water.

Goddard sued Hilldale-Colorado City Utilities, Twin City Water Authority, Twin City Power, the City of Hilldale, and the Town of Colorado City.

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