Officials get probation in FLDS-swayed city

Corruption case ends in plea deals

San Angelo Standard-Times/April 1, 2013

Kingman, Arizona - A public-fund corruption case in the northern Arizona community of Colorado City is concluding in lenient fashion.

It's another example of limited success in various prosecutions in the predominantly polygamous community heavily influenced by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The sect is headed by Warren Jeffs, who is serving prison time in Texas for sexually assaulting 12- and 15-year-old girls who were called his spiritual brides, and is connected to the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Schleicher County, 45 miles south of San Angelo and also owned by the FLDS.

The exhaustive investigation, which produced dozens of criminal charges alleging misuse of public money from the Colorado City Fire District, is ending in plea agreements allowing the defendants to earn misdemeanor convictions for felony offenses upon completion of probation.

Original allegations of blatant misappropriation of tax district dollars for gifts, travel and meals are reduced to convictions for illegal transfer of money from the primary CCFD bank account to another bank in St. George, Utah.

Former CCFD Chief Jake Barlow, 56, and former CCFD Secretary-Treasurer David Darger, 43, are both convicted of two counts each of solicitation of misuse of public moneys in separate plea agreements. Darger pleaded guilty Friday, the same day that Barlow was sentenced in the near-identical deals.

Defense attorneys involved in the cases argued that the prosecution was unwarranted and reflected bias against elected officials of a community heavily scrutinized for widespread practice of a multiple-wife lifestyle. Prosecutor James Schoppmann insisted that the case had nothing to do with the FLDS and targeted public officials who violated their fiduciary duty and abused public trust by misuse of the treasury.

Attorneys remain at odds over the propriety of the contested expenditures, but they've settled on convictions for improper fund transfers to resolve the legal proceedings.

Barlow's convictions involve transfers of $28,000 and $24,000 to the Utah bank. Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steve Conn placed Barlow on supervised probation for three years and directed him to perform 100 hours of community service.

Defense attorney Bill Porter said Barlow's sacrifice of career and community was punishment enough.

"He absolutely felt he had to leave the area in which he had lived and worked all of his life," Porter said. "His life has virtually been ruined by this prosecution."

Porter said Barlow is struggling to find employment because of the legal ordeal.

Convictions for Darger, who still serves as Colorado City manager, involve bank transfers of $8,000 and $10,000.

Conn indicated that he'll impose similar punishment for Darger at sentencing May 31, unless he can be persuaded that there are differences between the defendants.

The defendants have also been ordered to pay $5,000 to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office and $2,000 to the county attorney's office as partial compensation for investigating and prosecuting the cases.

Conn said the punitive condition of reimbursement for cost of investigation and prosecution was unprecedented during his 25 years on the bench.

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