Raid on polygamous sect costing state $25,000 per day

SAN ANGELO — A unique diet, specially tailored clothes, counseling: The daily cost of providing care to the 555 women and children relocated from a West Texas polygamist compound is running upward of $25,000 a day.

The state on Friday said it was prepared to foot the bulk of the cost.

“We’ll find the dollar and cents somehow, somewhere, under the sofa cushion perhaps,” said Krista Piferrer, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry.

She said the state would assume all unanticipated costs associated with the forced removal and care of 416 children that Child Protective Services officials say were being abused or at risk of abuse, and their mothers, 139 of them, who accompanied the children.

The relocated followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke from mainstream Mormonism a century ago to continue practicing polygamy, are being housed here, 45 miles north of their Schleicher County compound, in two makeshift shelters.

Journals confiscated

As about 500 public and private workers tried to care for them, authorities Friday released an 81-page list of items seized during the weeklong raid of the Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado.

The inventory contained hundreds of family photos and journals, notebooks containing marriage dates and births, and something described only as a “cyanide poisoning document.” All remain under court seal.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange later said the cyanide item was a set of pages torn from a first-aid book on how to treat cyanide poisoning, but she didn’t know why the sect would have such information on hand.

Authorities believe marriage and birth records, even informal ones, will prove their contention that a pattern of sexual abuse existed within the compound in which men had sex with underage girls under cover of religion, taking them as their spiritual wives and possibly consummating the unions in their temple.

No sex-related criminal charges have been filed against any of the men at the compound.

Investigators have collected DNA samples from an unknown number of them, to be used to establish child-parent relationships, a source at the compound said.

Birth records could be used to establish a mother’s age when she gave birth.

Physical evidence would be crucial to building any type of case, given how little the sect’s members have cooperated.

Marleigh Meisner, a CPS spokeswoman, said the task of identifying the sect members has become a grueling challenge. Those who work with the members say the women and children are always polite, but one may give different names and several may give the same name, she said.

The workers say they are doing everything they can to gain the members’ trust and ensure their comfort.

Only natural foods

The sect members are being served only natural foods, since they shun all things processed. Kevin Dinnin with Baptist Children and Family Services, contracted to coordinate services for the governor’s division of emergency management, said their frontier-style clothing can’t be ignored, either.

“If they want black socks, I want them to have black socks,” he said.

Counselors from Utah familiar with their customs are to arrive soon to advise CPS workers.

Dinnin said the women and children have neither asked for nor received televisions or newspapers. They have telephoned relatives back at the compound, though. CPS has forbidden all face-to-face contact between those in the shelters and male sect members.

Several women have called or arrived at the shelters to claim that the state is holding their children, officials said.

Hearing next week

Meisner said the children would not be permitted any visitors until the state’s effort to take full custody was decided. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in District Judge Barbara Walther’s court.

The state is trying to line up foster families for them, Meisner said.

Most of the children are the offspring of the faith’s inner circle — including its now-imprisoned prophet, Warren Jeffs — who were born since construction began on the compound, or were hand-selected by Jeffs to come to the enclave.

Phone calls from a pregnant 16-year-old girl at the compound, who said she is married to a much older and abusive man, sparked the raid. Her whereabouts remain unknown.

The Associated Press contributed.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 12, 2008.
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