Cover-Up (Arizona Attorney General internal memo)

Arizona faces a "Waco-level" threat from Mormon fundamentalists

Phoenix New Times/October 3, 2002
By John Dougherty

Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano's office is covering up information documenting extensive and ongoing criminal activity including rape, incest, assault, kidnapping, forced marriages of underage girls, weapons violations and welfare fraud that is rampant in the remote polygamous community of Colorado City, state records obtained by New Times reveal. Napolitano's special investigations unit has compiled information during more than two years of investigation that depicts horrifying living conditions in the small town on the Arizona-Utah border that is completely controlled by a handful of men who are leaders in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS).

A May 9 three-page memo prepared by the attorney general's special investigations unit and obtained by New Times portrays a brutal existence.

"Rape is punishment for women and reward for men," the memo states. "Molestation is rampant, as is incest."

The memo indicates that rather than enforcing state laws, Napolitano's office is seeking ways to suppress information of criminal activity in Colorado City and avoid initiating prosecution.

"To protect against open records we should actively maintain our investigation file on Colorado City and maintain an official position of vigilance," the memo states. "Beyond this, it is recommended that we proceed very cautiously. The press downside is minimal and containable."

Law enforcement agencies sometimes "open" an investigation in order to block public access to public records that range far beyond the narrow target of the probe.

The memo indicates that the Attorney General's Office believes it can keep the criminal allegations suppressed by simply refusing to comment on serious criminal allegations that are being lodged. That strategy has largely worked.

"To date, the local press has been relatively dormant regarding criminal acts in Colorado City," the memo states.

Although the Attorney General's Office confirms it has been conducting a lengthy investigation into activities in Colorado City, Napolitano's deputy Dennis Burke denies the memo came from the Attorney General's Office.

"That's not an AG memo. We have no record of that. We don't know what that is," he said early Tuesday morning.

A splinter group of the Mormon Church, the FLDS has openly practiced polygamy in Colorado City and adjoining Hildale, Utah, for about 80 years.

The church leadership has scrupulously controlled outside influences while projecting an image of large, happy families where multiple wives joyfully obey their husband. But in recent years, a darker, far more sinister image of the community has begun to emerge from women who have fled the community.

The women -- derisively called apostates by church leaders -- paint an entirely different portrait of the community, one that the Attorney General's Office knows in great detail. The office has been contacted at least 13 times in the last two years concerning a wide range of illegal activities in the town.

Napolitano's reluctance to initiate criminal prosecutions in Colorado City may stem from the fact that state law enforcement actions in the town proved to be the Waterloo for another Arizona political leader nearly 50 years ago.

Colorado City was once called Short Creek. It became infamous in 1953 after Governor Howard Pyle ordered state police to arrest and jail all married men on charges of bigamy, adultery and rape. Pyle also ordered the National Guard to round up all the women and children and bring them to Phoenix, where they were held as wards of the state for two years.

Pyle's action proved disastrous to his political future. Photographs of police pulling babies from their fathers' arms inflamed public opposition to the raid. Prosecutors were unable to secure significant convictions because it was difficult to prove bigamy since most of the marriages were not legally recorded.

"You get killed quicker in government doing your duty than turning your back," Pyle was quoted as saying at the time, according to a March 4, 2001, article in the Denver Post.

Pyle was defeated in the next election.

The hands-off policy continued during former attorney general and governor Bruce Babbitt's era. In a 1986 Associated Press article, Babbitt defended the residents as hardworking, God-fearing people and said he did not want to delve into personal lives.

Arizona leaders have continued to turn a blind eye toward the polygamous town, even after Utah began to step up enforcement last year when Juab County attorney David Leavitt charged Tom Green with bigamy, welfare fraud and child rape. That state also authorized a statewide polygamy investigation, although no indictments have resulted.

"Despite its significant Mormon presence, Utah has gone well beyond Arizona in prosecuting polygamists," the special investigations memo states.

Several state and county elected officials have been pressing Napolitano to conduct a criminal investigation into activities in Colorado City.

Last Thursday, September 26, Napolitano told four state legislators and a Mohave County supervisor during a 40-minute meeting inside her office that the state has not yet gathered enough documentation to initiate prosecutions.

Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson says Napolitano told the group that her office was continuing to investigate activities in Colorado City.

"They don't have enough documentation to charge anybody with any crimes," Johnson says he was told by Napolitano.

Johnson says he's been investigating allegations of child abuse, sex crimes and welfare fraud in Colorado City since becoming a supervisor six years ago. The former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy says he's interviewed more than 30 former church members who have fled Colorado City.

Johnson says he has been told of repeated instances of underage girls being forced into marriage, child abuse, child labor law violations, welfare fraud, rapes, assaults and mental cruelty. Young boys are also abused, he says. Boys who are deemed to be unruly and who will not follow church doctrine are dumped onto the streets of Salt Lake City to fend for themselves, he says.

"It's going to take the attorney general or the federal government to go do an investigation so they [church leaders] don't hide behind jurisdictional issues," he says.

Napolitano did not return New Times calls on Monday seeking an interview. Pati Urias, the Attorney General's Office spokeswoman, says the office is "well aware of accusations of criminal activity in this closed community."

Urias says that Napolitano has met with the Utah attorney general "to discuss joint prosecution of multi-state crimes along the Arizona-Utah border."

Prosecuting crimes in isolated communities such as Colorado City is problematic, Urias says.

"Successful investigations result from being able to get firsthand witnesses to substantiate allegations, which . . . is difficult to get in closed communities or among fringe groups," Urias says.

At least one credible witness, however, has presented detailed information to the attorney general investigators during the last year.

Flora Jessop was born and raised in Colorado City. Her father, Joseph Jessop, has two wives who produced 28 children. Her uncle, Fred Jessop, is one of the top FLDS officials.

Inspired by her grandmother, Flora says she stood up against the sexual abuse at her father's hands.

When she was 13 years old, she says she pressed sexual assault charges against her father in St. George, Utah.

The case was dismissed, she says, after she saw her father give the judge $4,000 in cash.

Upon her return to Colorado City, Flora says she was confined into one room of a house where she lived by herself for the next three years. During this period, she was beaten on several occasions.

"They were trying to break my spirit. What they did was kill all my emotions," she says.

She finally managed to escape the community when she was 16. She says church members tried to forcibly bring her back to the community for the next five years.

"When I left there, I didn't care about anything. I didn't care whether I lived or I died. It didn't make any difference to me," she says.

Finally, she broke free. Now 32, Flora is married and lives in Phoenix with her husband and 11-year-old daughter.

She credits her freedom to her grandmother, who was her best friend growing up. She says her grandmother, who married into the FLDS, told her to remember she had self-worth.

"Having self-worth is something unknown to the women and children up there," Flora says.

Sexual abuse, she says, remains widespread throughout the community, just as it was when she was growing up.

"I don't know of one household where sexual abuse was not taking place," she says.

Flora maintains close contact with the community and assists young women trying to flee. She's pressed the Attorney General's Office and federal officials, including U.S. Representatives John Shadegg and J.D. Hayworth, and Senator John McCain, to help her get her 13-year-old sister out of the community after the sister had been raped.

No one has helped, she says.

Flora says she's particularly frustrated with the Attorney General's Office.

"I'm so disgusted with that stupid office. I can't even deal with them anymore," she says.

Jessop tells New Times she has never been asked to testify before a grand jury by the Attorney General's Office -- an opportunity she says she would quickly accept.

During several interviews with attorney general investigators, Jessop says she provided them a list of underage girls who have been forced into marriages. Some of the girls have been transferred across the Canadian border, where the FLDS has another colony in Bountiful, British Columbia.

"They routinely trade across the Canadian border with the commune up there," Flora Jessop says. "They take girls from down here and ship them up there to marry men and bring girls from up there down here."

The Attorney General's Office official depiction of limited information also stands in sharp contrast to its own special investigations memo, which warns that there is very high potential for a blood bath in Colorado City.

"Arizona has a Waco-level problem in Colorado City," the memo states.

"The community of 8,000 residents is in the control of a fundamentalist Mormon cult . . . that practices polygamy, engages in violence and subjugation of women and children, and is ruled by a prophet' whose sexual behavior (at least in the past) and predictions of apocalypse are similar to those of David Koresh of the Branch Davidians."

The prophet, 92-year-old Rulon Jeffs, died on September 8. A power struggle to assume control of tens of millions of dollars' worth of assets in addition to dictatorial power as the leader of the cult is now under way in Colorado City and the adjoining polygamous town of Hildale, Utah.

The heir apparent is Warren Jeffs, who has been ruling the religious communities the last several years after his father became incapacitated. Jeffs has steadily increased the fundamentalist doctrine imposed on the community members.

"Among his recent edicts are the trafficking in girls and young women with more favored males in the city, the preparation of the townsfolk for a mass lifting up' in the community garden in the center of town and the removal of some 830 children from the public school, an order given in the summer of 2000," the special investigation's memo states.

The memo also alludes to a massive arsenal that is being built up in the community to defend the town from a long-anticipated battle with law enforcement.

"Reports from escaped women and other so-called apostates' reveal the FLDS men of the community to be armed with light battlefield weaponry, including grenade launchers," the memo states. "They are said to welcome an apocalypse.'"

The Attorney General's Office has received 13 complaints over the last two years, the memo states. The most recent is from Stephanie Lynn Olsen.

On April 16, 2002, Olsen sent a letter begging Napolitano to take action.

"Please help the women and children trapped in Colorado City," her letter begins.

Olsen's letter states she is in hiding in Mesa and "in fear for my life."

Her letter describes a terrifying ordeal that began after she complained to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office in October 2000 concerning the rape of her 15-year-old cousin by a member of the powerful Jessop family in Colorado City.

Upon her return to Colorado City, Olsen states in her letter to Napolitano that she, too, was severely beaten and raped.

"I don't have my front teeth anymore," she states.

The letter states that Olsen left her two children in Colorado City and that she fears they are being punished.

"Their father is my uncle," her letter states.

Olsen states in her letter and affidavit filed with the Attorney General's Office that she has not been contacted by the Mohave County law enforcement officials since she left Kingman on October 17, 2000.

The internal investigations memo briefly mentions Olsen's complaint and simply notes she is remaining quiet.

"It is our understanding that Stephanie Lynn Olsen is avoiding the press," it states.

The Attorney General's Office has also received 20 administrative investigations from Child Protective Services and the office of Children, Youth and Families. The office has also received notice of criminal actions from Mohave County on three occasions.

Despite the mounting evidence of serious ongoing child abuse, the Attorney General's Office has taken a hands-off approach.

"We have declined to prosecute on the grounds that the case must first be prosecuted at the county level," the memo states.

The memo warns, however, that the attorney general "acts in a supervisory capacity in terms of county attorneys," implying that the office can take action if Mohave County fails to enforce the law.

Records show Mohave County has been lax in prosecuting child abuse allegations coming out of Colorado City. And when the county does take action, the penalties are lenient.

Last spring, Dan Barlow Jr. pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse after being charged with molesting his five daughters. He received a suspended 120-day sentence and was released after serving only 13 days in jail. He was ordered to register as a sex offender and must serve 500 hours of community service.

The case began last December when Barlow's wife and 17-year-old daughter described to Colorado City police a pattern of sexual abuse that began when the daughter was 15 or 16 years old, according to press accounts of the trial.

Additional interviews revealed that Barlow had allegedly molested four other daughters over a long period, including a 13-year-old daughter. But prior to trial, four of the five daughters declined to testify against their father, who is the son of longtime Colorado City mayor Dan Barlow Sr.

While the Attorney General's Office can avoid prosecuting street crime cases that are typically handled at the county level, the memo states that criminal allegations involving the Department of Economic Security are far harder to ignore.

"AG jurisdiction involving DES function appears to be unavoidable," the memo states.

There are plenty of indications that there are grounds to take action.

"Welfare fraud in Colorado City is widespread," the memo states. "Polygamous wives and mothers, many underage, are assisted as single individuals."

Mohave County officials estimate that Colorado City gets about $8 in services of every tax dollar paid. The average elsewhere in the county is $1.25.

"Inescapably taxpayers have ended up in support of this cult's lifestyle," the memo states before concluding that the attorney general has the responsibility to enforce welfare laws.

"Our jurisdiction in the disposition of state and federal funds through state offices is obvious," the memo states.

The Attorney General's Office is also responsible for enforcing the state Constitution -- which outlaws polygamy.

Outlawed or not, there is tacit support for plural marriages from even mainstream members of the Mormon Church, the AG memo asserts. The Mormon Church banned polygamy in the 1890s as a condition of Utah's statehood. But the ban wasn't accepted by more conservative members of the church, who continued the patterns in remote enclaves, mostly in Utah and Arizona.

"Mainline Mormon ambivalence stems from the fact that multiple wifery is one of the eternal principles' of Mormonism," the memo states. "Having multiple wives prepares men for celestial status."

By focusing on polygamy in the isolated FLDS community straddling the Arizona-Utah border, former governor Pyle ended his political career.

Nearly 50 years later, Attorney General Janet Napolitano finds herself the Democratic nominee for governor.

But as the state's top prosecutor, Napolitano has failed to prosecute a single case stemming from a two-year investigation into a cult her own investigators say is engaging in violence and subjugation of women and children.

This is no longer simply a question of lifestyle and religious freedom.

Napolitano's special investigations unit reveals a town in the iron grip of brutal leaders who have engaged in illegal acts including rape, incest, assault, weapons violations, kidnapping and fraud.

Rather than encouraging appropriate legal action to protect young women from being repeatedly raped by their fathers, Napolitano's special investigations unit appears more concerned with keeping the allegations out of the press and dodging its constitutional duty to enforce the law.

"If someone is actually crying out and asking for help, and we are not doing anything about it, that is really sad," says Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson.

Note: See the following article that follows-up this one titled "Polygamy Puzzle."

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