By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano's office is covering up information documenting extensive and ongoing criminal activity including rape, incest, assault, kidnapping, forced marriages of underage girls, weapons violations and welfare fraud that is rampant in the remote polygamous community of Colorado City, state records obtained by New Times reveal.
Napolitano's special investigations unit has compiled information during more than two years of investigation that depicts horrifying living conditions in the small town on the Arizona-Utah border that is completely controlled by a handful of men who are leaders in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS).
A May 9 three-page memo prepared by the attorney general's special investigations unit and obtained by New Timesportrays a brutal existence.
"Rape is punishment for women and reward for men," the memo states. "Molestation is rampant, as is incest."
The memo indicates that rather than enforcing state laws, Napolitano's office is seeking ways to suppress information of criminal activity in Colorado City and avoid initiating prosecution.
"To protect against open records we should actively maintain our investigation file on Colorado City and maintain an official position of vigilance," the memo states. "Beyond this, it is recommended that we proceed very cautiously. The press downside is minimal and containable."
Law enforcement agencies sometimes "open" an investigation in order to block public access to public records that range far beyond the narrow target of the probe.
The memo indicates that the Attorney General's Office believes it can keep the criminal allegations suppressed by simply refusing to comment on serious criminal allegations that are being lodged. That strategy has largely worked.
"To date, the local press has been relatively dormant regarding criminal acts in Colorado City," the memo states.
Although the Attorney General's Office confirms it has been conducting a lengthy investigation into activities in Colorado City, Napolitano's deputy Dennis Burke denies the memo came from the Attorney General's Office.
"That's not an AG memo. We have no record of that. We don't know what that is," he said early Tuesday morning.
The church leadership has scrupulously controlled outside influences while projecting an image of large, happy families where multiple wives joyfully obey their husband. But in recent years, a darker, far more sinister image of the community has begun to emerge from women who have fled the community.
The women -- derisively called apostates by church leaders -- paint an entirely different portrait of the community, one that the Attorney General's Office knows in great detail. The office has been contacted at least 13 times in the last two years concerning a wide range of illegal activities in the town.
Napolitano's reluctance to initiate criminal prosecutions in Colorado City may stem from the fact that state law enforcement actions in the town proved to be the Waterloo for another Arizona political leader nearly 50 years ago.
Colorado City was once called Short Creek. It became infamous in 1953 after Governor Howard Pyle ordered state police to arrest and jail all married men on charges of bigamy, adultery and rape. Pyle also ordered the National Guard to round up all the women and children and bring them to Phoenix, where they were held as wards of the state for two years.
Pyle's action proved disastrous to his political future. Photographs of police pulling babies from their fathers' arms inflamed public opposition to the raid. Prosecutors were unable to secure significant convictions because it was difficult to prove bigamy since most of the marriages were not legally recorded.
"You get killed quicker in government doing your duty than turning your back," Pyle was quoted as saying at the time, according to a March 4, 2001, article in the Denver Post.
Pyle was defeated in the next election.
The hands-off policy continued during former attorney general and governor Bruce Babbitt's era. In a 1986 Associated Press article, Babbitt defended the residents as hardworking, God-fearing people and said he did not want to delve into personal lives.
Arizona leaders have continued to turn a blind eye toward the polygamous town, even after Utah began to step up enforcement last year when Juab County attorney David Leavitt charged Tom Green with bigamy, welfare fraud and child rape. That state also authorized a statewide polygamy investigation, although no indictments have resulted.
"Despite its significant Mormon presence, Utah has gone well beyond Arizona in prosecuting polygamists," the special investigations memo states.
Several state and county elected officials have been pressing Napolitano to conduct a criminal investigation into activities in Colorado City.
Last Thursday, September 26, Napolitano told four state legislators and a Mohave County supervisor during a 40-minute meeting inside her office that the state has not yet gathered enough documentation to initiate prosecutions.
Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson says Napolitano told the group that her office was continuing to investigate activities in Colorado City.
"They don't have enough documentation to charge anybody with any crimes," Johnson says he was told by Napolitano.
Johnson says he's been investigating allegations of child abuse, sex crimes and welfare fraud in Colorado City since becoming a supervisor six years ago. The former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy says he's interviewed more than 30 former church members who have fled Colorado City.