Wanted: Armed and Dangerous

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Arizona has taken a similar stance in its handling of polygamist families. Arizona Attorney General Goddard says the state is focused on child abuse within the fundamentalist Mormon community, not on breaking up existing polygamist families.

Blackmore says underage marriages were uncommon during Rulon Jeffs' leadership. After Utah passed a law making it a felony for a man to marry a minor 10 years his junior, Blackmore says, Rulon Jeffs told the FLDS congregation that the church would go along. That was in 1998.

"Rulon specifically told me we are going to obey this law," Blackmore says.

But during the same church meeting, Warren Jeffs and several of his most ardent supporters rejected Rulon Jeffs' decree.

The dissidents, Blackmore says, claimed that the "devil" was speaking through the elderly prophet.

Blackmore says Warren Jeffs told the congregation at the time: "The government is not going to direct the prophet!"

Warren, Blackmore says, expects to be worshiped and demands that his followers deal harshly with any family member who does not do so.

"The Warren faithful have abandoned their family members who do not hail him as their God," Blackmore wrote in the September 2005 issue of The North Star Chronicles. "It is truly a strange day and time."

The arrest of Warren Jeffs' brother, Seth, is a significant break for law enforcement, as well as a huge embarrassment for the FLDS. But it is unlikely to stem the flow of money necessary to continue construction of the Texas compound and to keep Prophet Warren Jeffs in hiding.

Not only does Jeffs have the unwavering support of thousands of FLDS members, he also leads a group that has mastered tapping the public till. FLDS polygamists have been diverting millions of dollars of public assets into church coffers for decades, and that well-honed practice has continued largely unabated even though criminal investigations have been under way for more than two years.

One way this is accomplished is by having Colorado City employees do FLDS-related work while on the public payroll.

Robert Richter says he spent six months between August 2004 and April 2005 working on three different projects for the FLDS while supposedly employed by the Colorado City public works department.

"I was a city employee while working on secret projects for Warren," he says.

It was during this period that Richter says he was working on the thermostat controls for what he believes is the crematory at the Texas temple.

Richter says he also helped design and install scrambling devices for about 50 two-way radios so that outsiders could not eavesdrop on communications. The radios were sent to YFZ.

In the biggest FLDS project in which he participated while on the town payroll, Richter says he helped refurbish and install computerized control equipment on two 500-kilowatt, diesel-powered electrical generators owned by the town's electric utility.

Richter says he was told by his superiors that the generators needed to be refurbished so that they would work with power service at the Texas ranch. Two other Colorado City public employees joined him on the project.

Once the generators were overhauled, Richter says, the utility conducted a fraudulent public auction. Before the auction, he says, he was instructed to disassemble the computer controls to give the appearance that the generators needed substantial work.

The ploy worked.

Richter says potential buyers from a non-FLDS polygamist sect in nearby Centennial Park considered bidding on the generators but were discouraged when they saw what appeared to be "dilapidated" equipment. They did not know "that we had already updated them with computer technology," he says.

The generators and computer controls, which are easily worth tens of thousands of dollars, were purchased by FLDS members for an unknown price, he says.

Richter says he was very conflicted about the bid-rigging and getting paid to do work on FLDS projects while on the city's payroll.

"There were a number of times I asked [superiors], 'Is everything I'm doing legal? Is there any risk of me going to jail over any of this?'"

Richter says he was told to simply fill out his time card, that his bosses would "take care of it."

Richter quit the FLDS soon after completing the generator project. He says he did not know what happened to the generators until he was shown aerial photographs of Yearning for Zion in late October.

Richter positively identified the two generators he had worked on, even though they were partially covered by green tarps. He also identified the computer-control equipment.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty