Colorado City, Ariz., Mayor Terrill C. Johnson was arrested on eight fraudulent vehicle registration charges Friday afternoon during a town council meeting.
The mayor of the Arizona town was taken into custody by deputies from Washington County, Utah, and the Colorado City town marshal's office - his own police force - on a warrant issued by Utah Judge James L. Shumate on April 13.
The eight charges are identical: false evidence of title and registration, a second-degree felony. Johnson, 57, was booked into the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah, with bail set at $5,000. He bailed out about 6:45 p.m. after paying cash.
Though Johnson lives in Arizona and has a dairy there, eight vehicles registered to him or his dairy had Utah plates, said Larry Ball, southern region investigator with the Utah State Tax Commission Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division. A Colorado City address was used to register the vehicles, but the city was changed to Hildale, Utah, he said.
The vehicles were then registered in Utah, where it is less expensive to register a vehicle than it is in Arizona, Ball said.
The Town Council usually meets on Monday evenings but apparently had postponed its meeting until Friday.
As the meeting ended, Colorado City Deputy Marshal Helaman Barlow approached Johnson, led him out of the council room and then arrested him. He then handed Johnson over to Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Matt Fisher.
The town and the adjoining city of Hildale are home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect that practices polygamy. Church leader Warren S. Jeffs is wanted on sex crimes charges in Utah and Arizona for his role in arranging underage marriages. He made the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list three weeks ago.
The towns' marshal's office has been under fire by authorities about its willingness to carry out their duties when it involved members of the FLDS church. Johnson and Barlow are members of the FLDS church. Johnson has served as mayor of Colorado City since March. He took over as mayor after Richard Allred unexpectedly resigned from the post, with little notice or explanation. Ex-FLDS members in the community say they later learned Allred had been ousted from the faith.
A person who answered the telephone at Johnson's home hung up after hearing the call was from The Salt Lake Tribune. Hildale Mayor David K. Zitting, reached on his cell phone, said he was unaware of Johnson's arrest.
Rod Parker, a former attorney for the FLDS church, said the charges against Johnson didn't justify jailing him and that "my guess is there is more to that story."
"It does seem consistent with the hyper, inflamed atmosphere down there right now that law enforcement is creating and now having to deal with," Parker said. "It sounds like they [the FLDS] need to start stepping up and defending themselves from this.
So much of this is unjustified harassment and intimidation that it is hard to see what is legitimate and what is not any more."
The mayor's arrest is the latest crackdown on the community by law enforcement and state authorities.
On Thursday, 16 Mohave County deputies, detectives and an investigator searched four homes in an ongoing investigation into sex abuse.
The searches are tied to cases of eight men indicted in June by a Mohave County grand jury on sex crime charges related to their "spiritual marriages" to minor girls.
Two other men - James Allred and Deputy Town Marshal Mica Barlow - are being held in an Arizona jail because of their refusal to testify before a state grand jury.
Last May, a Utah court took over a property trust set up by the community; in protest, residents refused to pay property taxes. Earlier this month, court-appointed fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan began having notices posted on homes demanding residents pay up or get out. On Friday, he also sued former trustees.
Arizona officials took over the Colorado City Unified School District, which had been overseen by FLDS members, in December after alleging financial mismanagement. A grand jury in Phoenix is currently investigating Jeffrey Jessop, the school's former business manager.
In March 2005, Utah decertified two deputies who served out of the two towns' marshal's office because they were practicing polygamists.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard has asked the Justice Department to investigate the force for civil rights violations after one officer admitted taking no action on numerous sex abuse cases. And the deputies are under fire for failing to protect assets of the property trust or answer questions during depositions related to an investigation of missing property.
Johnson, who is the registered agent for the Four Square Mill in Colorado City, also clammed up when asked during a February deposition if he knew anything about a grain elevator taken from the mill. His response: "As far as my own knowledge of our dear nation of the United States of America, I have as much right to remain silent as you do to speak, and so I choose to remain silent."
The grain elevator turned up back at the mill earlier this month.