County will hire private investigator to look at possible voter fraud in Colorado City

Sign outside polling location, St. George News file photo

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mohave County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved money for an investigation of possible voter fraud in Colorado City, Arizona, where members of a polygamous sect kept control of a town council.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the request by county attorney Matt Smith for $8,000 to hire a private investigator to look into whether people voted last year using addresses where they no longer live in the town.

Board members noted that the investigation might also validate the election results since many members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, have been displaced from their homes but still live in the community.

Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred cautioned the board not to spend money and time chasing rumors and reminded them the county, not the city, administered the election.

“I want to be careful that we’re not just babysitting somebody’s bad feelings about the outcome of the election,” said Allred, a member of the FLDS, who was not up for election.

The sect has been weakened in recent years by government crackdowns and a leadership void.

FLDS member Lori Barlow told the board that she and her family were displaced from their Colorado City home and advised by a county election official that she could submit a provisional ballot because she intended to move back.

Smith said such situations aren’t the focus of the investigation. He said the allegation from residents who contacted the county involves a deliberate scheme to impact the election

Nonmembers of the group took control of town offices in the sister city of Hildale, Utah, in the 2017 elections. The towns are separate municipalities on either side of the Utah-Arizona state line.

Both cities are being closely watched by court-appointed monitors after they were found guilty of civil rights violations against nonmembers. The group’s leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.

Government-ordered evictions have taken away hundreds of homes from FLDS members who refuse to pay property taxes and $100-a-month occupancy fees due to their religious beliefs.

“It is such a complex situation up there that I think it only behooves us to make the decision to help clarify exactly what happened,” county board member Gary Watson said during the meeting on funding.

Former Bullhead City detective Gary Engels will be hired to handle the case that will probably take a couple of months, Smith said.

“It will put people on notice, if in fact there is inappropriate conduct going on,” Smith said.

Christine Katas, who lives in the community and runs a nonprofit to help the FLDS, said the investigation is politically motivated based on myths about a targeted group that is treated poorly because their religion is unpopular.

Katas said FLDS members tried their best to comply with voter laws.

“These people did not want to commit fraud,” she said.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS Associated Press.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!