Crash Course

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"It was one of those things they didn't have any idea I was coming, and they were pissed," File says. "I just told it how it was."

News of File's tumultuous visit to Colorado City quickly got back to the AG's Office, which contacted File the next day.

File said Goddard's attorneys wanted to know if File thought Colorado City school officials would destroy public records to prevent a receiver from being appointed to run the district's finances.

"I said, 'They already are,'" File says he told the AG.

Four days later, on May 23, more than 20 police officers and AG investigators raided the Colorado City school district's office and filled a large moving van with boxes, computers and file cabinets. Search warrants indicated that Alvin Barlow, Jeffrey Jessop and assistant business manager Oliver Barlow were under criminal investigation for misuse of public funds.

The raid generated a huge treasure trove of documents for the AG, some of which were used to help prepare the AG's petition to place the school district into receivership. Goddard began legal action against the Colorado City school district on August 12, the day the new school receivership law took effect. The AG says he was prepared to present more than 20 witnesses and 175 exhibits at a hearing before the state Board of Education scheduled for December 8 and 9.

But that hearing was canceled after the consent decree was signed.

The three Colorado City school officials signed the consent decree on November 23, two days after the state Auditor General released the findings of a long-awaited audit requested in July 2003 by Horne.

The Auditor General's report was sharply critical of the school district's financial operations. The Auditor General noted that the private firm auditing the Colorado City school district's finances had "expressed substantial doubt about the District's ability to continue its operations."

The consent decree allows Alvin Barlow and Jessop to avoid appearing before the state Board of Education hearing and being asked to give sworn testimony on matters in which they are targets of a criminal investigation. The men indicated in pleadings that they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to testify.

The state gave up nothing in return for the district officials' signing the consent decree and is continuing its criminal investigation. "This agreement does nothing to foreclose the possibility of criminal charges in the future," Goddard said.

School district officials benefit from the consent decree at least in the short run by avoiding the public embarrassment of having to plead the Fifth Amendment before the education board. School district officials also are showing a willingness to cooperate with the state, which could help mitigate a sentence and/or fine if they are eventually charged and convicted of a crime.

Ironically, Oliver Barlow, one of the school officials under criminal investigation, will at least temporarily keep his school district job as business manager and serve as a liaison between the district and the receiver.

The state now faces a daunting public relations challenge as it prepares to salvage the school district's financial mess.

For years, Centennial Park polygamists blamed Jeffs for high property tax rates. Now, the state will likely become the target of bitter complaints as the school district receiver is forced to raise taxes to eliminate the district's $2 million debt over the next three years.

"The taxes will have to be raised substantially each year," says Mohave County school superintendent File.

Higher taxes will only further fuel deep suspicions spreading quickly among many Centennial Park polygamists that the school receivership is just the first step in a bigger plan by the state to eliminate polygamy.

"I think they are apprehensive that the people coming in will attack their religion," says Colorado City schoolteacher Bateman.

A year ago, Centennial Park families were clamoring for assistance from the media to bring attention to the school district's issuing bad paychecks. In recent months, however, Centennial Park polygamists have expressed strong support for Alvin Barlow and the school district, claiming that the media are distorting the district's financial problems.

Concerns about the state's launching a general attack against polygamy appear to be misplaced. There is no indication that law enforcement plans to break up existing polygamous families or arrest consenting adults who wish to engage in polygamy.

However, both Goddard and Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith have made it clear they will prosecute anyone who has recently taken an underage girl into a polygamous relationship.

"We will prosecute child abuse anywhere it occurs in the state," Goddard says.

Earlier this year, Mohave County filed felony charges against eight Colorado City men for engaging in unlawful sexual conduct with minors. The men all were given underage girls as polygamous wives by FLDS leaders. The cases are pending in Mohave County Superior Court.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty