Utah, Arizona, Nevada authorities mull cooperative polygamy probes

The Salt Lake Tribune/June 12, 2008

Top state and federal law enforcement officials from Utah, Arizona and Nevada met Wednesday in Las Vegas to discuss cooperating in the investigation of polygamy-related crimes.

U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said the group talked about working together on cases, including any involving the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and other groups.

No plans were made for a task force, said Gregory Brower, U.S. attorney for Nevada.

But he added: "The public should know that to the extent that these communities are running afoul of the law, in any way, that is something federal, state and local law enforcement are watching and taking very seriously, and will act upon if appropriate."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he strongly favors a task force, given the national and even international scope of the FLDS sect.

He said Wednesday's "very productive" meeting included a briefing on Utah's past investigations, and was also attended by representatives from the Internal Revenue Service, the

U.S. Department of Justice and the Texas Attorney General's Office.

"The whole purpose of the meeting was to talk about whether there should be a task force," Shurtleff said. "We're not there yet."

One topic discussed: documents and other evidence gathered in the April raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and how other states may gain access to it. Shurtleff said the evidence is more voluminous than anything previously collected on the FLDS.

"We'll know a lot once their records in Texas have been gone through," Shurtleff said.

Shurtleff said officials also discussed other polygamist sects, including a Davis County group.

Both Brower and Tolman said the meeting - attended by U.S. attorneys from Utah and Arizona, and attorneys general from all three states - was not arranged by nor connected to Washington.

"It's something that came about after some of the state attorneys general and U.S. attorneys in relevant states talked about trying to enhance our communication on these issues," Brower said.

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, however, recently appointed a senior Justice Department prosecutor to work with Utah, Arizona and Nevada to review how the federal government can help attack polygamy-related crimes.

In requesting a national task force, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he believes local officials need such assistance from the federal government.

Tolman disagrees, saying, "We just need to open the lines of communication."

Visiting Salt Lake City on Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the agency will continue to assist local authorities. "I'm not certain a task force is necessary," he said.

The FBI put FLDS leader Warren Jeffs on the bureau's Most Wanted list, and assisted in serving search warrants on the sect's Texas compound during the recent investigation there, he said.

Texas officials removed more than 450 children from the FLDS ranch in April following calls to a family shelter by someone claiming to be a 16-year-old pregnant girl who had been abused by her husband.

Texas appeals courts overturned the removal, and police have connected the calls to a Colorado woman with a history of making false reports to authorities.

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