Wanted: Armed and Dangerous

As the FBI chases polygamist Prophet Warren Jeffs, work continues 24/7 on his religion's foreboding new Texas capital

Richter says he was very conflicted about the bid-rigging and getting paid to do work on FLDS projects while on the city's payroll.

"There were a number of times I asked [superiors], 'Is everything I'm doing legal? Is there any risk of me going to jail over any of this?'"

Richter says he was told to simply fill out his time card, that his bosses would "take care of it."

The YFZ property in Texas is hard to get into and out of.
John Dougherty
The YFZ property in Texas is hard to get into and out of.
Robert Richter quit the FLDS because of "secret projects."
Mark Folkerson
Robert Richter quit the FLDS because of "secret projects."

Richter quit the FLDS soon after completing the generator project. He says he did not know what happened to the generators until he was shown aerial photographs of Yearning for Zion in late October.

Richter positively identified the two generators he had worked on, even though they were partially covered by green tarps. He also identified the computer-control equipment.

Richter says he believes the diversion of electric equipment from the Colorado City electric utility to YFZ also includes underground electrical cable, transformers and switching equipment. Some of the electrical equipment sent to YFZ, Richter says, appears to be materials the Colorado City utility had acquired from the city of Anaheim, California.

Lorin Fischer, director of the Colorado City power department, did not return telephone calls from New Times seeking comment.

Richter has not been the only public employee working on FLDS projects.

On October 13, New Times observed Colorado City public works employee Elmer Johnson operating a road grader on the 800-acre FLDS compound in Bountiful, British Columbia.

Johnson confirmed that he was a Colorado City employee, and when asked why he was working in Canada, he said he "was just helping out."

Winston Blackmore says Johnson's truck had been at the FLDS compound for several weeks.

Colorado City payroll and vacation records reveal that Elmer Johnson was paid by the town to work on FLDS projects in Canada. He was paid $1,494 for the week ending October 15. His leave records, meanwhile, show he had used up all his vacation days by September 30.

Colorado City public works director Dean Cooke did not return New Times' phone calls seeking some sort of explanation.

The illegal use of public resources for the benefit of FLDS projects fits a long-established pattern of misuse of public funds first uncovered by New Times in a 2003 investigation of the Colorado City Unified School District.

The articles that resulted spurred passage of a law last spring giving the state Board of Education in Arizona the authority to place the Colorado City school district into receivership, which is expected to happen in early December.

The New Times school investigation stories also triggered an ongoing criminal probe of top school district officials by the Arizona Attorney General's Office. The one-school district with about 300 students is more than $1.4 million in debt.

Colorado City school records reveal that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been diverted into private FLDS schools, which ultimately benefits Warren Jeffs and his church.

The corruption within the Colorado City town government is equally pervasive.

Former Colorado City councilman Richard Holm says the Arizona and Utah legislatures should pass laws allowing the states to temporarily take over the daily operations of the Colorado City and Hildale town governments, which, according to Holm, are controlled entirely by FLDS religious leaders.

Holm served as a Colorado City councilman from 1985 until early 2004, shortly after he was suddenly excommunicated from the FLDS by Prophet Jeffs.

"It was well understood that the entire city council would defer any and every decision to [FLDS religious leaders]," says Holm about his 19 years on the town council.

Members of the Colorado City council have never faced a contested election since they were first appointed by FLDS leaders in 1985. Only two members have left the council in that period -- Holm, and former mayor Dan Barlow, who was booted out of the FLDS in January 2004 and subsequently resigned his post.

State election laws are routinely ignored by the council. Six of the seven town council members, including Mayor Richard Allred, failed to file annual financial disclosure statements for 2004 and 2005, making it impossible to know of possible conflicts of interest with local businesses.

Outside authorities suspect there could be extensive conflicts in such a closed society where nearly everyone is related. City records, for example, show that the town council routinely awards major construction engineering contracts to JNJ Engineering, whose vice president is a nephew of Bygnal Dutson, a city council member.

JNJ awards lucrative public works construction contracts to companies controlled by FLDS members. These companies, in turn, contribute money and labor to Warren Jeffs and the church, former FLDS members say.

If a company fails to make sufficient tithes to Jeffs, its owner runs the risk of expulsion from the church.

"It's extortion," says FLDS historian Benjamin Bistline.

FLDS-related businesses are scattered about the West. The church has members who own large companies involved in trucking, sand-and-gravel operations and other construction-related enterprises. These firms generate millions of dollars a year in revenue, an untold amount of which is diverted to Warren Jeffs.

The cost of keeping Prophet Jeffs out of the hands of law enforcement and the millions of dollars getting spent on the massive construction project at the Texas compound may have something to do with the FLDS' failure to pay all of the Colorado City property taxes owed to Mohave County.

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