Colorado City election fraud investigation underway

Town hall in Colorado City, Ariz., date not specified | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The private investigator tasked with looking into alleged voter fraud in Colorado City, Arizona, started his investigation Monday.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $8,000 to hire private investigator Gary Engels in April. County Attorney Matt Smith requested the funds after residents voiced concerns regarding voter fraud during various 2018 elections. 

Smith said the allegations were based on nonresidents and past residents voting in the 2018 election in order to help the polygamous group, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, retain control of the town council. Residents also came forward to report that mail-in ballots had been intercepted and filled out by individuals who did not live at the specified residences.

“Obviously, you have to live in a jurisdiction and establish residency to vote in that area,” Smith said.

The length of the investigation will depend on how long the approved funds last. Smith said most of the $8,000 is going toward Engels’ salary, which is approximately $21 per hour. Engels is a former Bullhead City police officer and was the Colorado City investigator from 2004-2015.

Engels was also hired in 2004 to investigate underage marriages in Colorado City. His involvement was the driving force behind the conviction of three people and the issuing of warrants that led to the arrest of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Smith said Engels “knows his way around” and “has informants, he has friends up there, and people who will talk to him” as a result of his 11-year relationship with the community.

Smith said Engels had traveled to Colorado City prior to the April 15 Mohave County Board of Supervisors meeting to speak with informants and witnesses.

“He seems to feel that there is some credible information that there were people that did not live at a particular residence that in fact did vote during the last election cycle,” he said

Engels has already undergone new-employee training in preparation for his investigation and made his way to Colorado City this week.

Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred said it was the county, not the city, that sent, received and verified ballots. Mohave County has “competent and honest” staff, he said.

Allred addressed the board of supervisors in April, asking it to be cautious of launching investigations based on rumors or “babysitting hurt feelings.”

Smith said if Engels were to find significant evidence of election fraud, they could request more money from the board to continue the investigation and compensate Engels for his time. However, he believes the investigation will be relatively short, and he is not currently planning to request more money. 

“If there was some merit, it would require a lot of investigation and a lot of cooperation with people in order to establish it,” Smith said.

He said the investigation, at the very least, will let people know they are taking the allegations seriously, will prompt residents to be more alert, and deter future endeavors of any group to commit election fraud and “preserve the integrity of the election system.”

Supervisor Gary Watson said with the complexity of the jurisdiction and the displacement of hundreds of FLDS members from their homes, it is pertinent for the county to investigate the situation to at minimum “help clarify what happened” and to help people in Colorado City understand who is qualified to vote.

Supervisor Hildy Angius said investigations are used not only uncover wrongdoing but also to vindicate the community. She said the investigation “can only be good.”

The biggest obstacle Engels is likely to face, Smith said, is the community’s lack of cooperation.

The lack of cooperation that Gary has had in the past and other people have had in the past, including our Sheriff’s Office, is something we’re going to have to deal with.

Allred said the town government is open to helping the county look into the allegations and they want the election results to be fair and honest.

The allegations of voter fraud came after the FLDS maintained control of the town council during the 2018 election. Colorado City’s sister city, Hildale, elected candidates in 2017 who were not members of the church.

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