Feds will review polygamy problems
SALT LAKE CITY - A federal prosecutor has been assigned to look for ways to help tackle problems associated with polygamy in Western states, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

"This is precisely the kind of help I believe the federal government should provide," Reid said in a letter to attorneys general in Utah and Arizona. "Your requests for federal funding to assist victims of domestic violence also merit prompt review."

Reid's letter, dated Monday, said the Justice Department can strengthen efforts to fight crime within polygamous groups. He said he sought assistance from Attorney General Michael Mukasey and was told a senior career prosecutor has been appointed to carry out a review of how to help Utah and Arizona. In a meeting with Justice Department officials two years ago, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard raised concerns about tax violations and civil-rights violations.

Reid recently blasted Utah and Arizona, accusing the states of failing to investigate crimes in polygamous communities. He's since patched things up with Shurtleff and Goddard.

Reid has called for a federal-state task force to investigate polygamous groups after an April 3 raid on a Texas ranch owned by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

State officials said children at the ranch were at risk of abuse. More than 400 are in temporary state custody.

An estimated 37,000 people live in organized polygamous groups or practice polygamy independently across the Intermountain West. Known as fundamentalist Mormons, the polygamists tie their beliefs to the early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church abandoned polygamy in 1890.

Last year, a southern Utah jury convicted FLDS leader Warren Jeffs of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin. He is serving two terms of five years to life in prison.

Jeffs, 52, now is in an Arizona jail, awaiting trials on sex charges related to two child-bride marriages.

Reid's letter said the Justice Department will also meet with Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Mato. He's also asked for input from Nevada's chief federal prosecutor.
Originally published May 8, 2008