Polygamy in Arizona: The Wages of Sin

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Free use of a large vehicle is a substantial benefit for the average polygamist, who has a very large family to transport.

Not only did select district employees receive free vehicles, they also got free gas, insurance and maintenance, courtesy of their public employer.

Superintendent Barlow charged more than $2,700 in gas on school district accounts in 2002 for his Ford Excursion. He also got at least $1,385 in repairs on the Excursion that were paid by the district. But because of the lax recordkeeping, it is impossible to tell how often Barlow used the vehicle for personal use.

Travel and credit card records show that Barlow typically made several trips a week to St. George, Utah, where he frequently charged up to $50 on his district credit card for food. (Barlow seems to particularly love pie; he has unpaid credit card charges to Frontier Pies for more than $230 dating back to September 2001.)

District credit cards carry a $60,000 limit, and the school board has been aware that holders are using the cards for personal expenses since at least 1999. The practice has led to the ballooning, unpaid credit card balance that topped $23,000 in late 2002.

Arizona school districts are prohibited from carrying unpaid credit card balances and incurring interest charges, says Laura Miller, accounting services manager with the state auditor general.

"They would actually need to pay off the full balance every month so they are not incurring interest and finance charges," she says.

Records show that the district's Wells Fargo credit card balance has not been paid off since March 2001, resulting in $2,800 in finance charges through November 2002.

Part of this interest expense resulted from potentially illegal personal credit card charges amassed by board president Bistline, Superintendent Alvin Barlow, business manager Jessop, assistant business manager Oliver Barlow, high school principal Lawrence Steed, school counselor Steven Barlow and elementary school principal Kimball Barlow.

Stresses Miller of the Auditor General's Office, "Personal use of district credit cards would not be an item that is allowable."

Superintendent Barlow leads the way with more than $5,000 in unpaid personal credit card expenses from May 2001 through November 2002, district records show. He tallied most of the expenses on meals and hotels. Many of the personal expenses were incurred at the Mark Twain Restaurant, in Hildale -- the only sit-down, formal dining establishment in the Colorado City area.

District business meetings are routinely conducted at the local restaurant. Credit card records show several thousand dollars in charges since March 2001, which could be a violation of state spending laws.

"That type of expenditure is something that would be a possible gift of public money," Miller says.

Before the district had the Wells Fargo account, it issued American Express credit cards that were apparently used illegally by district officials.

For example, school board president Bistline, in January 1999, put $160 in charges for a personal vacation to Caliente Hot Springs, Nevada, on his district American Express card, district officials admit. Principal Lawrence Steed charged another $176 in personal expenses on his district American Express card at the same resort a month later.

Credit card records also show school district officials purchasing tens of thousands of dollars' worth of office supplies and computer and electronic equipment in the last two years. They routinely bought hundreds of dollars of items at retail stores on single shopping trips, despite agreements with Mohave County to purchase most school supplies in bulk at a discounted rate.

Though a detailed audit beyond the scope of the Arizona Public Records Law would be required to make such a determination, several teachers have expressed concern that district materials are ending up in the FLDS' private schools. School district storage rooms are adjacent to the Darger and Broadbent buildings, the former public schools that were later turned over to the Improvement Association to become private schools.

One teacher said in a taped interview that a colleague was teaching mathematics in one of the private schools while on the public payroll.

In addition, the teacher from the 2nd Ward said, "[that FLDS teacher] was using the district's supplies and copiers to get ready for his math class."

Ironically, the district employee and FLDS member refused to fill the lingering math teacher vacancy at the public high school.

"He absolutely refused to teach any of our students because of his religious decree not to," the 2nd Ward teacher says.

There is no doubt that district employees occasionally spend time during the work day at the private schools. Superintendent Barlow was seen one afternoon driving his district vehicle to the old junior high school building to chat with private school students and play basketball during district business hours.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty