Double Exposure

Arizona's finally followed Utah's lead and launched serious action to stop abuses by polygamists

Because its investigators suspect that district employees are helping out fellow church and family members, the Auditor General's Office has demanded that school district officials complete conflict-of-interest-disclosure forms. So far, however, Barlow and the others haven't complied.

The Auditor General's Office has asked the district to "identify all district officials and governing board members who have or whose relatives have or have had a substantial interest in any contract, sale, purchase or service to the district."

When and if school officials comply, it's likely to be a long and complicated list, since practically everybody in the Colorado City area is related through the tangled web of polygamous marriages.

Brian Stauffer
Warren Jeffs' compound: The prophet's horde of wives live in structures the size of hotels.
John Dougherty
Warren Jeffs' compound: The prophet's horde of wives live in structures the size of hotels.

Conflict-of-interest violations discovered by New Times include: The school board president's son is paid to pilot the district's Cessna, and a school board member has a contract with the district to perform maintenance services.

In an attempt to offset what the state might find, the school district has hired its own auditing firm to examine its books. But, in a draft report prepared by Tucson's Heinfeld, Meech & Co., a number of serious problems are noted: improper use of credit cards, missing financial statements for the district's employee-benefits trust fund and a practice of creating purchase orders after money is already spent.

The latter problem -- depending on the size and nature of the unapproved purchases -- could lead to felony charges, says a Phoenix attorney familiar with school finances.

While File has given the school district time to get its house in order, he says it is doubtful that Barlow and the school board will be able to come up with sufficient funds to pay bills for the remainder of the school year.

File is waiting to see if state officials approve the district's appeal of a request for an emergency advance of more than $1 million that was turned down earlier this month by the Arizona Department of Education.

On December 2, state schools finance director Lyle Friesen notified the district that no state funds can be advanced until the district provides detailed information about its past spending and coughs up projected expenses for the rest of the year.

Asked if a school district has ever run out of money before the end of an academic year, Friesen says, "We have never had that situation come up before."

Even without the alleged malfeasance by district officials, state education officials would be wondering how the Colorado City school district got itself into this mess, since the district has received more than $4.3 million in extra state funds over the last three years. The money was paid under the state's "rapid-decline" formula, which is designed to protect school systems from financial collapse when unforeseen circumstances force a mass withdrawal of students.

In Colorado City's case, the rapid decline occurred when Warren Jeffs ordered the 650 fundamentalist students withdrawn from the public school three years ago.

As for whether Mohave County School Superintendent File can legally remove five members of the Colorado City school board, the Attorney General's Office is reviewing the matter.

But state schools superintendent Tom Horne says it's unlikely that either File or the Arizona education department can forcibly remove elected school board members.

"If a district stops operating and becomes totally dysfunctional, somebody has to step in and do something," Horne admits. "But there is apparently no statute allowing such action."

Horne says he plans to ask the Legislature to pass a law that would allow the state to intercede when school districts, such as Colorado City's, have severe financial and operational problems.

That would be great, File says, but it won't solve the immediate problem.

"Colorado City is never going to change," he says, "unless the state goes in there and takes over the school, or the state allows me to replace the school board members with people who represent the children who go to that school."

File is not the first to call for a new school board in the polygamist enclave. Last year, a group of angry students submitted a petition to the Colorado City board demanding that members resign en masse.

Cops Take Child Brides

Colorado City police officer Winford Johnson Barlow married his second wife, Margaret Jessop, in a spiritual ceremony sometime before her 18th birthday on July 6, 2002.

Seven months after Jessop turned 18, she delivered a healthy, seven-pound, 14-ounce baby girl at the Hildale Maternity Home on January 29, 2003. Winford Barlow is listed as the girl's father on a Utah birth certificate obtained by New Times.

By all indications, Barlow, 36 at the time, had sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old girl who was not his legal wife sometime in the spring of 2002.

A Hildale resident, Barlow apparently committed a class-three felony in Utah, which outlaws such sexual encounters between a legally unmarried minor and a much older adult. No charges, however, have been filed. Barlow could not be reached for comment.

Barlow already had a large family before Jessop was brought into the fold. He legally married his first wife, Carolena Holm, in October 1986 when he was 21 and she was 19. Like all dutiful FLDS wives, Holm began bearing children -- her ninth baby was born last September.

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