The Colorado City marshal, the chief law enforcement officer in town, is a polygamist, and police routinely ignore cases where teenagers are having sex with much older men who purport to be their husbands.
Child molestation by fathers and older brothers is common.
The religion has created an economic collective called the United Effort Plan that controls land ownership and ruthlessly evicts women and men (and their families) accused of violating FLDS tenets.
Polygamy violates the Arizona Constitution and has been held illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court for 124 years, but that hasn't stopped the fundamentalist Mormon culture from thriving on the Arizona-Utah border.
Although Congress required Arizona to include an anti-polygamy clause in its Constitution as a condition for gaining statehood, the Legislature has never enacted a corresponding law making polygamy a crime. The glaring loophole has frustrated efforts to prosecute sexual-abuse crimes against teenage women in polygamous unions.
That there is no state statute banning polygamy may result from the Legislature's dominance by mainstream Mormons, whose founder, Joseph Smith, introduced polygamy to the Salt Lake City-based church in the 1840s. The mainstream Mormon Church officially eased away from polygamy in 1890, and now excommunicates polygamists.
Criminalizing the practice today could rekindle harsh family memories of persecution of polygamous Mormons for many Arizona families, including some of the state's most powerful political clans such as the Udalls, the Tenneys, the Farnsworths and the Flakes.
William J. Flake, co-founder of the town of Snowflake, is the great-grandfather of Arizona Speaker of the House Jake Flake, and the great-great-grandfather of U.S. Representative Jeff Flake. In 1884, William Flake was convicted and sentenced to the Yuma Territorial Prison on polygamy-related charges. After serving his sentence, he continued to live with his two wives.
House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth also hails from a prominent polygamist forefather. Flake and Farnsworth are joined in the Legislature's leadership by fellow Mormons Senate President Ken Bennett, Senate Majority Whip Marilyn Jarrett, Senate Minority Whip Jack Brown, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Russell Pearce.
The Legislature isn't the only branch of government that has avoided the issue. Governor Janet Napolitano initiated the grand jury investigation of Colorado City when she was attorney general, but her office never filed charges. The inaction by Napolitano known as a middle-of-the-road careerist politician became a campaign issue last fall after New Times published a story based on what appeared to be an AG's special-investigations memo describing serious abuses in Colorado City and efforts by the AG's Office to keep the information from the public.
Napolitano declared the memo a fake, and called for a criminal investigation into how the document which appears to be on office stationery was generated. No arrests have been made in the memo probe.
Subsequently, New Times began its investigation into Colorado City which has included examination of AG's files that show the state has long had substantial evidence of illegal activity in the fundamentalist Mormon community.
Governor Napolitano declined to comment for this story.
New Times has found that the state's failure to criminalize polygamy has allowed the fundamentalist Mormon church unfettered access to public funds without fear of criminal prosecution or, in the case of elected officials in Colorado City, removal from public office.
This subsidy is destined to rapidly expand. With each passing year, as the FLDS population grows, the cost to state taxpayers rises. In addition to the $6 million going to FLDS-controlled governments, Arizona is footing the bill for health care in Colorado City. Nearly everyone in the area receives state-managed health-care benefits, costing taxpayers another $8 million annually.
Taxpayers are also feeding the huge families resulting from polygamous marriages. More than half the population on the Arizona side of the area receives food stamps, worth more than $2 million a year. Another $500,000 a year goes to help pay for child care.
The public funds are directed toward maintaining a community rooted in an unconstitutional practice where the ultimate power rests not with citizens, but with the FLDS Prophet.
"We treat our Prophet as God himself," says former FLDS member Pamela Black, who recently left the church after a lifetime of turmoil. "That's how much respect he has."
The Prophet controls the culture and economy in the Colorado City area for an overriding reason he is the only person under fundamentalist Mormon doctrine who can conduct plural marriages.
"The power in this operation comes from the person who decides who marries who," says DeLoy Bateman, who quit the church after it tried to take away four of his kids by his second wife.
The Prophet decides which men get which wives, and how many. The addition of each wife to a man's family is called a "blessing."