Polygamy Puzzle

Furor over mysterious memo masks difficulties in prosecuting illegal acts

The author of a purported Attorney General's Office memo describing widespread criminal activity in the polygamous community of Colorado City remains unknown more than two weeks after it surfaced.

The state Department of Public Safety has begun an investigation requested by Attorney General Janet Napolitano to determine who prepared the document that depicts dangerous conditions in Colorado City and alludes to efforts by the Attorney General to avoid taking action.

Napolitano says the document -- which appears to be written by a special investigations supervisor -- is fraudulent.

"We actually have opened an investigation on that particular memo to determine the authenticity," says DPS spokesman Frank Valenzuela. The department's special-investigation unit is handling the case.

Colorado City is controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- an offshoot of the mainstream Mormon Church. The FLDS has long practiced polygamy and strongly encourages -- some say it forces -- teenage girls to marry much older men who already have multiple wives. The teenage marriages have become the focus of intense criticism from child advocates and women's rights groups.

The three-page memo was accompanied by a letter and supporting affidavit from a woman claiming to have been raped in Colorado City. The information detailed in the memo, as well as in the letter and affidavit, presents a perplexing situation: The Attorney General's Office acknowledges that most of the information in the memo is accurate and addresses legitimate concerns, including long-standing allegations of widespread rape, incest, molestation, underage marriages, weapons violations and welfare fraud.

Nevertheless, several key aspects of the document remain unconfirmed, and the AG's Office points to these as evidence that the memo didn't come from within.

The most troubling is the April 16 letter to Napolitano and accompanying affidavit by a woman named Stephanie Lynn Olsen. Olsen claims in the letter and affidavit that she was beaten and raped in Colorado City after she reported the rape of her 15-year-old cousin to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

Attorney General spokeswoman Pati Urias says the office has never received any correspondence from Stephanie Lynn Olsen.

The Mohave County Sheriff's Office does not have any record of Olsen reporting the rapes -- although officials with the office say it is very likely that no written report would have been made, since the crime occurred within Colorado City and would have been under the jurisdiction of the town's police department.

Colorado City officials say the memo, letter and affidavit are frauds and that no one named in the affidavit lives in the town.

New Times' efforts to locate Stephanie Lynn Olsen also have been unsuccessful.

Prior to publishing a story based on the memorandum ("Cover-Up," October 3), New Times interviewed Dennis Burke, Napolitano's chief deputy, about the document. During that lengthy interview, Burke stated that, while he had not seen the document and that it was unusual, he assumed it to be true.

He confirmed that the criminal allegations raised in the memo, including rape, incest, molestations, weapons violations and welfare fraud, were under investigation by the Attorney General.

"I will substantiate the investigative aspects of it," Burke said of the memo.

He said the only specific allegation in the document that surprised him was a statement that the FLDS members had grenade launchers.

"I wasn't aware of the grenade launchers," he said.

The only parts of the memo that seemed strange, according to the aide, were references to press coverage by out-of-state newspapers and a statement that the local press could be controlled.

"It's a weird memo," Burke said.

The detailed information contained in the memo makes it clear that it was prepared by someone with intimate knowledge of the situation in Colorado City and of the Attorney General's two-year investigation of activities in the small town, which hugs the Utah border and is virtually closed to outsiders.

There is also no doubt that there is widespread concern with the slow pace of the Attorney General's investigation and with the fact that no indictments have resulted.

The lack of substantial progress by the Attorney General's Office, combined with the upcoming election in which Napolitano is the Democratic nominee for governor, made it prime time for someone -- perhaps an antipolygamist activist, an angry official in the Attorney General's Office or a political opponent -- to prepare and/or send such an explosive memo to the press.

The most damaging parts of the memo are statements indicating that Napolitano is not aggressively pursuing the Colorado City investigation. Any significant prosecution would trigger a contentious battle over religious rights, particularly if the Attorney General indicted FLDS members on sexual abuse charges.

AG officials say the case has moved slowly because it has been very difficult to find credible witnesses willing to testify that they were sexually assaulted and forced into underage marriages.

"We've had our investigators go up there five times," says Burke. "This is not something we have been sitting on. This is something we have been struggling with so goddamned hard to get primary witnesses."

Others -- particularly antipolygamist activists and their political supporters -- say there have been several clear cases in which the Attorney General could have sought indictments in the last two years, but failed to act.

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