Stung by critics who say Utah has done little about the polygamy problem, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff suggested Utah's crackdown on abuses within the closed societies may have ultimately led to the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's Texas compound.
"They wouldn't have gone to Texas if they hadn't been running away from us," he said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. "They went to Texas to flee when we started cracking down."
Anti-polygamy activists have gone on cable-TV talk shows and given interviews praising Texas for the raid.
"At least Texas has finally done something about this horrid cult, while Arizona and Utah have swept it under the rug for a hundred years," Dot Reidelbach, the director of the FLDS documentary "Banking on Heaven," wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
Still, Shurtleff said he had no plans to conduct a similar mass-scale raid on the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
"And do what? Arrest thousands of polygamists in Utah? We wouldn't have 400 kids, we'd have thousands in our foster care and thousands of their parents in the prison system. It's not practical to do that," Shurtleff said. "We were right to focus on abused children."
The Utah Attorney General's Office has made it clear that it will not prosecute polygamy as a criminal offense alone.
Instead, it has chosen to focus on child abuse, domestic violence and fraud. Shurtleff has said that he would have liked to have seen more cases prosecuted but did not have the necessary evidence or witnesses willing to come forward.
Polygamy is prohibited, but attorneys say constitutional questions regarding religious freedom could make it too difficult to secure a conviction on plural marriage alone, as is the case with court rulings regarding the rights of consenting adults.
County attorneys in Utah have shouldered the prosecution of polygamists, but the Utah Attorney General's Office has had involvement and influence on the cases. (See related graphic).
Even now, Shurtleff questions the decision by Texas authorities in removing all 416 children from the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch.
"There is that sweeping statement that they've concluded as a matter of law that if you're a child in a polygamous family, that alone means you're abused," Shurtleff said. "We've never concluded that here."
On April 17, a hearing will be held in San Angelo, Texas, during which Child Protective Services will have to justify to a judge why all 416 children should remain in state protective custody.
Meanwhile, law enforcement from Utah and Arizona are working more with Texas authorities to see if any information gleaned from the raid on the YFZ Ranch could lead to potential prosecutions here.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said he has been consulting with the Texas attorney general and recently dispatched one of his assistant attorneys general to Eldorado.
Mohave County attorney's investigator Gary Engels, who helped build the criminal cases against Warren Jeffs, is also in Texas now.
"I hope we get some good information out of this situation," Goddard said.
Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith told the Deseret News on Sunday that he continues to maintain contact with Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, to update each other on what is going on at the YFZ Ranch and in Hildale. So far, Smith said he has not been asked to investigate any possible crimes that may spill over into Utah.
"If we get allegations or complaints, we're going to investigate them," he said. "It seems like everything's taking place in Texas. It's been very quiet in Hildale."