New allegations surface of FLDS underage marriages

A list of additional crimes prosecutors may use against cult leader Warren Jeffs was entered in a Texas court under seal Wednesday, along with the witness list for Jeffs’ sexual assault and bigamy trial.

Jeffs is the iron-fisted ruler of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect of the Mormon Church.

At a hearing Wednesday the court set dates for the final pretrial, deadlines for submitting motions, and sustained the trial dates of July 25 for the count of sexual assault of a child and Oct. 3 for felony bigamy.

During the hearing the parties agreed that the witness list for the case and the list of extraneous offenses will be sealed, says the San Angelo Standard-Times. The paper recaps:

Jeffs has been in jail in Reagan County since he came to Texas at the end of November 2010. He will be the eighth of 12 men to be prosecuted as a result of evidence collected on a raid at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Schleicher County.

The raid was based on a call received from a woman claiming to have suffered abuse at the ranch. Defense attorneys in previous cases of FLDS members have argued to the jury that the call was a hoax, and the prosecution and law enforcement has not countered that idea.

While in jail, Jeffs has reasserted himself as the president of the FLDS corporation, even as another church elder is in the process of claiming to be the sole head of the corporation, and Jeffs has reportedly excommunicated members of the church while in confinement.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

A total of at least 14 pre-teen and teenage girls were taken from an FLDS settlement in British Columbia to be married in the U.S. between 2003 and 2006, according to evidence seized by Texas authorities and presented this week in a case weighing whether the Canadian law banning polygamy is unconstitutional. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has previously said they are investigating.

Eleven of those girls were married to men within the sect, including two to James Oler, then the bishop of the settlement known as Bountiful, according to the affidavit written by Texas Ranger J. Nick Hanna. The document also alleges four marriages of underage girls to Jeffs: two 12-year-old Canadian girls, one 13-year-old Canadian girl, and a 14-year-old apparently American girl. It details a shroud of secrecy Jeffs, 55, allegedly ordered around two of his 12-year-old brides as their fathers drove them down from Canada to his home in Texas in 2005.

One father was told to keep the marriage quiet, even from his family, according to the affidavit. Another was told to destroy two prepaid cell phones as he crossed the U.S. border. […]

These marriages do not appear to be the same alleged marriages — one to a 12-year-old, another to a girl under 17 — connected to bigamy and sexual assault charges against Jeffs in Texas. Jeffs is estimated to have at least 80 wives.

The Globe and Mail explains:

In late 2005, the now-jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs called two men in Bountiful, B.C., and told them to bring their 12-year-old daughters to the United States to be wed, according to passages from Mr. Jeffs’s diaries presented in a B.C. court Tuesday.

In the diaries, Mr. Jeffs describes one of the fathers as “thrilled” with the news and goes on to describe the marriages, saying he and the girls were “sealed for time and eternity.”

“I then called in these two young ladies. I explained to all that these girls were to be sealed to me to protect them at a time when they were able to be sealed and that I had their fathers’ permission and the Lord’s direction,” Mr. Jeffs said in the diaries, portions of which were read in court during closing arguments at a landmark case about Canada’s polygamy law. […]

Government lawyers are presenting documents seized during the Texas raid as evidence that young girls were trafficked between FLDS communities in Canada and the United States to marry – which they say is one of many inevitable abuses that justify keeping polygamy illegal. The B.C. government noted in its closing submissions that it has already submitted evidence 13 girls from Bountiful between the ages of 12 and 18 were married to older American men from 2004 to 2006.

On Tuesday, B.C. government lawyer Leah Greathead said Texas officials had sent information about more than a dozen additional cases, and asked for permission to table the documents as new evidence. The judge will decide later whether to admit the new evidence.

Craig Jones, another government lawyer, told the judge it’s impossible that residents of Bountiful weren’t aware that girls as young as 12 were being taken to the United States to be married off. And no one, he noted, called the police.

“Children are simply disappearing from the community – 12-year-old girls, 13-year-old girls, 15, 16, 17 – and all this is happening with the regularity that the evidence indicates,” he said.

“It’s unfathomable to think that this practice was not widely known in the community.”

Last February KSL TV filed this report on the trafficking of child brides:

Research resources on the FLDS
Research resources on Bountiful

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