On the EDge: FLDS kids pawns in tug of war

OPINION – If you’ve ever ventured out to the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, one thing you have noticed is there is no lack of children in the polygamous community.

They are everywhere, including, according to a couple of news reports, a property where a tent city popped up on the Utah side of the state line just days after a court served eviction notices on occupants of 16 Hildale homes.

The occupants got caught up in the political-religious war that has been taking place in the community for more than a half-century. This latest round is a result of the refusal of residents in the community to pay a $100-per-month occupancy fee and annual property taxes on the homes, which were once owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the polygamous sect of fundamentalist Mormons led by Warren Jeffs. Jeffs is doing time in a Texas prison for raping two girls, one 12 and the other 15, who he took as spiritual wives.

The state took over the homes, which were paid for and administered by the United Effort Plan Trust – the financial arm of the FLDS church – in 2005 when it became apparent that the state could no longer avoid filing charges against Jeffs.

Read more: Judge calls for eviction of FLDS residents delinquent on fees

Conservative estimates at that time put the value of UEP holdings – cash and real property – at about $200 million. It was argued that Jeffs’ “mismanagement” of the UEP could jeopardize, and eventually displace, the FLDS members who lived in the church-owned houses.

“We are doing this for one purpose and one purpose only, to protect the members of the FLDS church,” said Mark Shurtleff, the Utah attorney general at the time. Shurtleff, you must remember, has been a longtime friend of the FLDS, going so far as to state publicly that his office would not prosecute violations of the state’s bigamy/polygamy statutes.

In light of the boatload of criminal charges and allegations leveled against Shurtleff, we are not, in retrospect, surprised by his selective prosecution.

But, flash forward nine years and what have we got? Families displaced because they obeyed Jeffs’ edict not to pay the fees and a bill of more than $5 million Bruce Wisan, who was appointed by the state as special fiduciary over the UEP Trust, laid on the state two years ago.

Legal experts will tell you that the state’s authority to act as it did in this case was sketchy at best; that it was based on the suspicion that Jeffs and his inner circle were liquidating assets and moving cash around as investigators closed in on criminal charges against him in Utah and Arizona; and that a young woman prepared a civil lawsuit against him and the church for forcing her to marry a cousin when she was only 14.

There has never been evidence, however, that those actions were taking place, although tracking FLDS money and resources can be a very tricky and, in some instances, almost impossible task, especially when you understand the business/tax advantages given to religious organizations and the cloak of secrecy that shrouds the FLDS.

It’s why I bristle at the tax exemptions and special benefits handed over to nonprofit organizations. Yes, there are legitimate groups out there, but more often than not, a 501(c)3 designation for an organization sends my antenna up; and I find myself searching the books to see how much money goes to overhead – from paying high-salaried CEOS to settling the light bill – and how much goes into services, research, or whatever else the charitable organization is supposedly set up to provide.

So, I had mixed emotions when the property was seized.

On one hand, I believed that the assets of the UEP Trust were gathered as a result of a judge who recognized the cradle-to-grave brainwashing by an evil man who encouraged and abetted the sexual abuse of young girls, the abuse of young boys put to work in the fields and businesses of the community, the relentless discarding of women’s rights, and the propagation of welfare fraud at the state and federal levels.

On the other, however, there’s this thing called the law, which clearly established Jeffs’ right to milk his followers of all their worldly possessions in return for his pastoral guidance under freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

I still have many questions.

Was the state decree to seize the property legal?

Was it well-intentioned? Given the recent scandals involving Shurtleff, his successor, and Wisan, I have to wonder. It seems that everything that went through the attorney general’s office had a price tag on it.

Was it worth more than $5 million in taxpayer money paid to Wisan to put these people on the street?

And, what happens next?

More than 40 percent of Hildale’s population lives below the poverty level, according to the 2010 census. As a result of the recent action by the state, a growing number of those people will go homeless because they refused to comply, under the direction of Jeffs, with the occupancy fees and property taxes charged by the state.

This means a growing burden on the welfare system, which translates into an undue burden on taxpayers.

This also means that children and women, who, according to reports, make up the majority of those residing in the tent city, are living in unsanitary, inhumane conditions.

If this continues, I would fully expect, and demand, as a matter of fact, that the Utah Department of Child and Family Services intervene. Even though it would undoubtedly put even more strain on social services in the county, we simply cannot allow these children to remain pawns in this ongoing political-religious tug of war between the state and the FLDS.

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Sing4money August 5, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Ohhh sooo sad! Too bad. Stop trying to turn these kids into victims. They are a product of their parents and if parents decide not to pay 100, then a tent is where they should be.

  • Sing4money August 5, 2014 at 10:38 am

    How about the state of Utah gets off its a..* and arrests some of these losers! But can’t the city of Saint George too busy with fining people with weeds! If you want to blame someone….. Utah citizens, it is your fault. You turn a blind eye to crimes committed against kids
    *Ed. ellipses

  • San August 5, 2014 at 10:40 am

    You need pictures…..lots and lots of pictures. No people in them, because they’d probably be afraid, but photos of the living conditions.

  • Rachel August 5, 2014 at 10:47 am

    I will admit being a long time resident of Utah that most of us claim to be chosen people and claim to do the right thing but when it comes to protecting the women and children who live in these sects, we do nothing. We ignore them and are duties as Christians. We do not have what I takes here in Utah to really stand up for what’s right. Instead we pretend that as long as we go to our ward meetings that we are doing gods work. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to be from Utah. I have lived in other place and I can tell you that people outside of Utah are brAver and bolder. They know how to stand up for others, why can’t we be like that??? And yes…. Before anyone tears me down, it should start with me ! But hard to start a movement when everyone else afraid of what their neighbor will say about them! Wake up Utah.

    • Don't Mess With Texas August 5, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Texas had the balls to take quick and decisive action against these child predators whereas it seems Utah had the bribes not to take any action. Nothing will change in Utah in regards to this. Had Texas not brought this to the attention of the nation, Jeffs probably would still be preying on little girls. Don’t mess with Texas and don’t expect anything from Utah.

  • EL JEFE August 5, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Child Protective Services should be involved and those children living in tents in inhumane conditions should be removed from those parents. I am so sick and tired of paying taxes so those in THAT community can continue to “bleed the beast”. Outright blatant fraud is being perpetrated and it MUST stop! The lawful taxpayers deserve at least they be investigated, and if found to be fraudulent, charges should be filed and those people should be prosecuted. Maybe our current state AG (Sean Reyes) will undo what Shurtleff and his predecessor (Swallow) did. But that would ne wishful thinking. Too much money at stake.

    • sam August 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      They already are on every entitlement govt program out there. Its time to stop the bleeding! Fraud is fraud.

  • Utah Mom August 5, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    OK so are the houses OWNED by the trust or by the people living in them? If they are indeed owned by the trust then the occupants have zero legal right to live rent free and should be evicted as anyone else would be. If they actually own or were paying for the house then they have zero legal right to not pay property taxes and still have the home. If I do not pay my property taxes then my home is foreclosed on and taken away. If I do not pay my rent then the legal owner or guardian has the right to evict me for non-payment.
    Every other resident of the state of Utah has to pay taxes so why do they feel exempt?

  • Margaret August 5, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Well written article. As a non-FLDS resident of Colorado City, I would love to foster some of these women and children. If there is any way I can reach out to them, I will.

  • St Georgenative August 5, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    One thing all you people complaining about what utah should do is go hire some of the polygamist women that have been kicked out or give them some of your gently used items that are so desperately needed. There are good people there that are just trying to now fit in to society just like “us normal” people. Even if you aren’t Christian there are many ways to serve and better the st George community and not get caught up in the politics. A lot of the families are a product of their upbringing but aren’t you as well? We can all make a change for good. You just have to be looking for it. Kindness starts with me and you.

    P.s. All sarcastic comments will be ignored. I only hope to inspire some compassion. And no I’m not from either Hildale or Colorado city.

  • Maggie August 5, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    The kids are always the pawns . It does not matter if they are in a desert ghetto like the polygamists, a ghetto in Chicago , sent/enticed here from South America or a woman comes from anywhere in the the world to gift us with an anchor baby .
    The kids are the pawns AND the paychecks thanks to the American taxpayer and our government. Not good for the kids and not good for America. Yet many think it is racist or inhumane to bring up the subject.
    As soon as many of you make this connection and really do care about children perhaps there will be enough of us to remove the incentive to make money from the birth of children and stop rewarding the cheating adults who thrive from the welfare system as it is today. Ask yourself “Do these children have a better life because of what we adults do and how we do it?” If not, shouldn’t we look at a different way of handling the way we care for them and forget about political correctness . There is a reason that statement has the word “political” in it. It is more for political reasons than actual caring or problem solving.

  • tom August 6, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Joseph Smith and Warren Jeffs are identical….

  • tom August 6, 2014 at 10:16 am

    I would like to kindly ask why Warren Jeffs is so hated by Mormons and Joseph Smith is your prophet. Smith had child brides and nearly every other thing about Smith and Jeffs are the same. I really do want to understand the logic that makes Joseph Smiths life acceptable and not Warren Jeffs. I am not saying this with attitude,I am just wanting an explanation that has any merit to it.

    • Dana August 6, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Warren embarrasses the Mo masses. He reminds them too much of their polygamist history…as well as their incestuous and inbreeding history.The Mo’s are always the FIRST to say they don’t practice polygamy anymore. They are quick to distance themselves from the FLDS.

  • INCOGNEGRO (Josh Dalton) August 6, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    You are right on the money! You just forgot a couple of names we should mention. Jacob Hamblin and Brigham Young also had MULTIPLE child brides. Never the less Dateline NBC should have regulated this from the start. My Prophet Chris Hansen would have put a stop to this a long time ago.

  • utah August 6, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    You write like and idiot. You are the voice of those that hire and pay you. And when then get tired of listening to themselves and their own lies and hypocrisy then they will fire you.

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