Affidavit Details Sect's Unions, Pregnancies

USA Today/April 10, 2008

San Angelo, Texas - More allegations of abuse were revealed Wednesday in the case of a polygamist sect whose Texas ranch was home to hundreds of girls and children.

An affidavit unsealed by Texas State District Court Judge Barbara Walther said that officers had found records at the Yearning for Zion Ranch indicating one man had been married to more than 20 wives.

The affidavit was signed by Leslie Brooks Long, a Texas Ranger who has been at the ranch "on multiple occasions over the past four years," the affidavit said.

The same affidavit said several girls taken from the ranch are younger than 18 and pregnant, or have given birth, and are married or "spiritually united" with men in their 40s.

One resident said that one girl "has four children and is under 16 years of age." The husband has two wives, and the mother of the four children does not even know her true age, according to the affidavit.

Walther also unsealed an arrest warrant she signed for Dale Barlow, 50. The court documents alleged that Barlow is the husband of a 16-year-old girl whose anonymous call to an abuse crisis hotline last week triggered the investigation of the ranch by child welfare agents.

Hundreds of state police and federal agents have been searching the compound. Walther allowed the search of the compound to proceed Wednesday and rejected a motion by defense lawyers to release any of the sect's 416 children from protective custody.

The judge cited as her reason the concern by the Department of Family and Protective Services that the children were at risk of abuse at the compound.

Lawyer Gerald Goldstein, who represents the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), likened the massive search of the ranch to police seizing control of the Vatican.

"It has been under siege for a whole week now," Goldstein said. He added that Barlow has been located in Arizona but has not been taken into police custody.

Prosecutor Allison Palmer countered that the purpose of the search is to uncover evidence of criminal activity, not to malign a religion.

Walther said only a federal court could halt the actions of the federal agents, adding that the warrant issued in federal court was based on state findings alleging a pervasive pattern of sexual abuse of children.

Meanwhile, the Department of Family and Protective Services said at least 12 of the 416 children in protective custody have chicken pox. Spokesman Chris Van Deusen said it appeared none of the children had been vaccinated against chicken pox.

Police have been investigating the ranch for years, according to the court documents.

One affidavit stated that Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran had been working with a confidential informant about activity within the ranch for four years.

It said the informant reported that the temple at the ranch "contains an area where there is a bed where males over the age of 17 engage in sexual activity with female children under the age of 17."

The Texas investigation is the state's first of FLDS members, but prosecutors in Utah and Arizona have pursued several church members in recent years, including sect leader Warren Jeffs. He is serving two consecutive sentences of five years to life for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old forced to wed her cousin in Utah.

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