Longform

Polygamy in Arizona: The Wages of Sin

Page 2 of 11

• Key FLDS personnel are issued expensive district-owned vehicles including Ford Excursions, F-350 pickups and Chevy Suburbans for personal use, a violation of state law.

• The district disposed of valuable assets, including supplies, phone systems and classroom buildings for the benefit of private, FLDS-operated schools.

• Religious discrimination has resulted in a serious breach in communication between 2nd Ward teachers and students and FLDS-controlled school board members and administrators.

• School board members steer district business to relatives.

• District administrators travel continually to often unnecessary meetings. They frequently take family members on business trips, charging meals, hotel and merchandise on district credit cards.

• The district has been unable to attract qualified teachers and has left high school classes unstaffed for months at a time.

• A state grand jury investigation of the school district initiated in December 2000 by former attorney general and now Governor Janet Napolitano has failed to lodge a single indictment.

Colorado City school district superintendent Alvin Barlow declined to comment on New Times' findings as did members of the school board.

Local efforts to reform the district have failed not only because the school board is controlled by the FLDS but because the vast majority of voters are dominated by it. Parents', teachers' and students' concerns about issues ranging from course selection to tax rates are ignored.

"It's basically taxation without representation," says Mohave County School Superintendent Mike File. His office disburses public funds to school districts in the county, whose local boards decide how the money is spent. "This wouldn't go on in any other of the county's 12 school districts."

The district has more than 100 full- and part-time employees for 300 students, a 3-to-1 student-to-employee ratio grossly out of line with the county average of 26 students per full-time employee. There are about 30 full-time teachers.

The unusually high number of district employees has long alarmed File, but he says there is little he can do to force the district to cut back on the number of workers.

The Colorado City school district is the community's largest employer and has long played a crucial role in providing goods and services to the remote town of about 4,000 people on the Arizona Strip.

Allegations of improper spending by the district led to the infamous 1953 state police raid on the community, then called Short Creek. The raid failed to end polygamy which is unconstitutional in Arizona and a felony in Utah and proved to be a political disaster for Governor Howard Pyle, who lost his reelection bid.

The Short Creek raid has taken on near mythical proportions among polygamists, who can point to Pyle's political demise as a warning to any politician who might seek to abolish their illegal lifestyle.

In the ensuing five decades, only New Times has closely examined the school district's financial operations, despite obvious signals that something was grossly amiss.

The serious religious discrimination and financial problems embedded in the school district are forcing fiercely independent and extremely wary 2nd Ward polygamist leaders to request what is generally considered unthinkable state intervention.

"I can't see how there would be any opposition whatsoever to the state taking over the school district," says Knudson, the failed non-FLDS school board candidate. "Nobody believes that any decision the district makes will be made for the best interests of the students."

Shun the "Heathens"

On July 16, 2000, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs issued a bombastic order from the pulpit. Speaking on behalf of his elderly father, Rulon Jeffs, who was then Prophet of the FLDS, Warren ordered the faithful to stop all contact with apostates.

"If you are choosing to socialize with apostates, to join with them in any way, you are choosing to get on the devil's ground," Warren Jeffs stated in the sermon.

"Our Prophet will lose confidence in any person who continues to harbor apostates [or] join with them. And he means business," Warren Jeffs warned.

Such threats are not taken lightly in Colorado City.

Disobeying the supreme spiritual leader's commands can mean losing home, family and job.

The FLDS through a trust called the United Effort Plan owns nearly all the land in town and routinely evicts families from their homes if they fail to obey religious commands.

The Prophet's immense power is rooted in his authority to assign wives who are frequently underage girls and to perform polygamous marriages ("Fornicating for God," March 20). Church faithful believe that a man must have at least three wives to reach the highest levels of heaven, called the Celestial Kingdom. As for women, they cannot enter heaven unless they stay in the very good graces of their husbands.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty