Arizona Sen. Linda Binder and Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson briefed the London Bridge Rotary Club Wednesday about their efforts to combat polygamy and resulting abuse in Colorado City and Hilldale, Utah.
The elected officials talked about recent allegations regarding sexual and physical abuse surrounding the polygamist group — a fundamentalist splinter group of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“As far as I’m concerned we have the Taliban sitting in our backyard,” Binder said of the community. “It’s Arizona’s dirty little secret.”
Binder said she is not attacking alternative lifestyles, but specifically the Colorado City area — an isolated community in which middle-aged men allegedly are marrying and having sex with girls as young as 15 years old.
“I do object to young girls —14 and 15 year olds — being married off to 30- to 40-year-old men,” Binder said. “This is truly a cult.”
Both Binder and Johnson said another key issue is the amount of money being given to the community by county, state and federal governments.
Johnson said Colorado City receives $8 for every tax dollar it injects into the county, while Lake Havasu City receives a little more than $1.
“The dollar amount should be equal,” he said.
Johnson said the community receives so much money because of the sizes of the families living there. Many of them include families with up to 40 children.
He said it is subsidized educationally to have a ratio of three and a half teachers to one student.
In Lake Havasu City, he said the number is closer to 30 to 40 students per teacher, and the schools are about to put an override on the ballot to keep up.
A few community leaders, or “prophets” control the money often do not distribute the money fairly, Johnson said. In some cases, he said people have had their homes taken away for not giving up their 15-year-old daughters for marriage because the church owns all the property.
Binder said the church’s trust fund has about $40 million saved up, yet leaders are constantly asking for more welfare money.
“They act like a total sovereign nation, but they accept our tax dollars,” she said.
A proposed justice center, which would incorporate law enforcement and social services, has been proposed to be built in or near Colorado City. However, Johnson has criticized the proposal for its timeliness and effectiveness.
“It’s an afterthought,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the issue has been recognized for a number of years and was continually ignored until it was recently brought into the media by the Tom Green case. He has also questioned the effectiveness of the proposed center because he said the women who are allegedly being abused in Colorado City area don’t know they are being abused because they have lived in the “cult” their entire lives.
During the upcoming legislation session, Binder said she is going to try and get some legislation to make some of the practices in Colorado City illegal.