Ariz., Utah assail senator for polygamy comments
Deirdre Hamill/The Arizona Republic
Terry Goddard

Terry Goddard

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and his Utah counterpart are calling for federal assistance in fighting polygamy-related crimes in response to criticism from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid complained this week that the states have not been aggressive enough in attacking plural marriages.

Goddard and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff sent a letter challenging Reid after his remarks on a Salt Lake City radio show, where he assailed them for not conducting Texas-style raids in polygamous Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.

"I think that Texas is doing what Utah and Arizona should have done a long time ago," the Nevada senator said, referring to enforcement against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound in Eldorado, Texas.

Shurtleff demanded an apology, saying he and Goddard have conducted a campaign against child sex abuse and racketeering within the towns for more than six years.

On ABC 4 News of Salt Lake City, Shurtleff noted that Warren Jeffs, the FLDS prophet, was sentenced to prison for arranging a child wedding that took place in Reid's home state. Shurtleff speculated that Reid is motivated by the fact he is Mormon, "and he has a guilty conscience about his ancestors or something."

The fundamentalist church is not affiliated with the mainstream Mormon religion, which long ago instituted a doctrine against plural marriages. FLDS members, by contrast, believe that multiple spouses are a key to achieving celestial bliss in the hereafter.

Goddard said he phoned Reid and said, "Excuse me, you're missing a whole lot of history here."

Goddard said enforcement efforts by Arizona and Utah forced the FLDS Church to move to Texas in 2003. Besides convicting Jeffs of rape as an accomplice, Utah and Arizona forced the sect to relinquish most of its Colorado City holdings, decertified numerous FLDS law officers and stripped control of public schools from religious leaders.

Reid could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

No sect members have been prosecuted for plural marriages, Goddard said, because polygamy as practiced by the FLDS does not violate Arizona's bigamy statute.

The Texas enforcement effort was prompted by calls from a purported 16-year-old who claimed she was a victim of abuse in Eldorado. Texas took hundreds of children into custody but never found the girl. Goddard said Arizona statutes would not allow the sort of roundup conducted by Texas officers. He said the law also requires officials to ID a victim before breaking up families.

On Wednesday, Goddard and Shurtleff wrote to Reid asking him to arrange a session with the Justice Department concerning civil-rights violations and tax evasion involving the sect. The letter tweaks Reid for speaking in ignorance. It points out that Arizona authorities conducted a far-reaching raid on polygamy in Colorado City in 1953, when the community was known as Short Creek. Criminal cases fell apart and prosecutors were castigated for violating religious freedom and ripping more than 200 children from their homes.

More recently, Goddard said, he and Shurtleff sought federal help in dealing with the FLDS sect, and the FBI assisted in tracking down Jeffs when he was a fugitive. But they got no results from the U.S. Marshals Service or the IRS.

Reid also has made previous appeals for federal action against polygamy, including a 2006 letter to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"For too long the outrageous activity has been disguised in the mask of religious freedom," he wrote. "But child abuse and human servitude have nothing to do with religious freedom and must not be tolerated."
Originally published May 1, 2008