Longform

Derail Polygamy's Money Train

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The prophet's power extends to the economic realm as well.

Nearly all the land in Colorado City and Hildale is owned by a trust called the United Effort Plan, which is under the complete control of the prophet.

The prophet doles out parcels of land to men considered worthy of the "priesthood." These men then pay for and construct homes for their rapidly expanding families. But the men never take title to the homes. The men can be evicted from their houses and forced to leave the community at the whim of the prophet.

Not only that, but any man's wife and children can be reassigned by the prophet to another man. The new "husband" frequently "marries" the daughters of his new "wives." (State law neither recognizes underage marriages without parental consent nor multiple marriages, so legally such men and their so-called spiritual spouses have not entered into wedlock.)

The church urges those involved in polygamous unions to produce as many children as possible. It's not unusual for women to have had a dozen children by the time they reach their early 40s.

This obviously creates tremendous economic pressure on the family patriarchs, who must provide for scores and scores of children.

This is where the state and federal governments come in handy.

The FLDS has created sham public entities whose primary purpose is to obtain state and federal funds to help finance the rapidly growing polygamist society.

The prophet determines who will be on the Colorado Town Council and the Colorado City school board. The town goes through the motions of holding elections, but the outcome is always fixed.

There has never been a contested election for a seat on the Colorado Town Council. I know. I have reviewed every election since the town was incorporated in 1985.

The Colorado City school board is also dominated by FLDS men who were ordered to become members of the board decades ago by religious leaders. School board President F. Lee Bistline has served since the 1960s. District Superintendent Alvin Barlow has held his post for more than 30 years.

The fundamentalist prophet keeps strict control over the Colorado City school board for one reason: money.

The school board is the community's most important counterfeit political entity because it receives more than $6 million a year in state and federal funds.

In the last two years, I have examined thousands of pages of school board minutes and financial records that reveal a massive and systematic scheme to divert taxpayer funds from public school assets to FLDS coffers.

The school board and its top administrators have transferred valuable public school assets -- including school buildings, buses, communication equipment, underground high-speed Internet connections, district credit cards, numerous sport utility vehicles (including gas and repair bills) and classroom supplies -- to FLDS private schools and for the private benefit of FLDS church members.

It is an astounding rip-off that would never occur in a normal school district where voters could replace corrupt and incompetent school board members at the ballot box. But FLDS members are not going to vote against anyone endorsed by their prophet. Anyone who goes against the prophet suffers dire consequences.

There's an intriguing and disturbing subtext to why the school board is systematically looting the school district to the point that it is more than $1.2 million in debt and payroll checks are bouncing left and right.

It is about church-inspired hatred. What has resulted from this hatred fuels a powerful argument for why the Legislature must act as soon as possible to seize control of the Colorado City school district.


Despite the firm grip of the FLDS on thousands of followers, it is not the only fundamentalist Mormon polygamist sect in the Colorado City area.

Twenty years ago, a group split from the dominant religion over leadership issues. Known as the Second Ward, the other polygamist sect set up operations a few miles southeast of Colorado City in the unincorporated community of Centennial Park.

As is often the case in the netherworld of fundamentalist Mormonism where violence, murder and hatred lurk in the shadows, the two sects despise each other.

The FLDS considers members of the Second Ward beneath contempt -- worse even than blacks, whom FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs has said in sermons are the devil's manifestation on Earth.

It is this irrational, religious-based hatred between the FLDS and the Second Ward that's propelling the Colorado City school district toward bankruptcy.

The hostilities began in earnest in July 2000, when Warren Jeffs ordered FLDS church members to sever all ties with all members of the Second Ward, and that included even relatives.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty