Senate investigation to look into polygamy and federal crime
WASHINGTON – A Senate investigation into polygamy and federal crime will take place in three acts Thursday and will star a powerful senator angling for a federal task force, high-level federal and state prosecutors, two former sect members turned outspoken critics of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a true-crime author who wrote a book about imprisoned FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs.
No FLDS members in good standing are on the witness list for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at 10 a.m. on Capitol Hill, but members of the breakaway Mormon sect, including FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop, will attend.
The hearing titled “Crimes Associated with Polygamy: The Need for a Coordinated State and Federal Response” will look into creating a federal task force to work with states to investigate suspected offenses such as organized crime, racketeering, white collar crime, and abuse of women and children.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has long sought creation of a federal task force to partner with states. Reid, Senate majority leader, is the sole witness listed for the first of three panels.
The second panel features top federal attorneys for Nevada and Utah, as well as attorneys general from Arizona and Texas.
The third panel is made up of writer Stephen Singular of Denver, Colo., and ex-FLDS members Carolyn Jessop and Daniel Fischer, both of Utah.
Singular is a New York Times bestselling author who has followed criminal investigations into FLDS since 2006.
Singular said his testimony Thursday will involve allegations of sexual crimes against young girls but will also include “possible financial areas that could reveal fraud” by the FLDS.
In his book, “When Men Become Gods,” he follows the sect leader Warren Jeffs’ rise to power and the efforts by private investigators, law enforcement and former polygamists that led to Jeffs’ 2007 arrest.
Jeffs is serving time for two counts of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice. The leader of the breakaway Mormon sect played a role in the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin in 2001 in Utah.
Carolyn Jessop, ex-wife of YFZ Ranch leader Merrill Jessop, wrote “Escape,” a book about her life in the FLDS and her eventual flight from the sect.
Fischer was secretly married to three women in the Salt Lake City suburbs. He fathered 16 children before breaking free of the church in 1995 with his second wife.
Fischer was uniquely empowered to escape the church.
Earlier, the church granted him the privilege of attending college and dental school. He then served polygamist families as a dentist. He also developed a series of tooth-whitening products and created Ultradent Products, Inc.
Today, Fischer is seen as a traitor to many still loyal to the church, said Shannon Price, director of the Diversity Foundation, a charity Fischer funds through Ultradent.
“(Fischer) will focus on our youth and the foundation’s experience with the families,” Price said of Fischer’s expected testimony for Thursday.
The Diversity Foundation has sheltered and counseled hundreds of young people who were expelled or escaped from the community since 2002.
Willie Jessop said Thursday’s witnesses lack credibility because they are uniformly anti-FLDS, and the hearing will be one-sided.
Grand jury hearings to resume in polygamist sect case
ELDORADO — When a grand jury reconvenes here today to hear evidence of alleged sexual abuse inside a West Texas polygamist community, the state’s chief law enforcement official will be in the courtroom — Attorney General Greg Abbott, two officials said.
Though Mr. Abbott’s office declined to comment on whether he would be in town, two law enforcement sources close to the massive child welfare investigation confirmed that he was coming, a move they indicated could signal indictments.
Jerry Strickland, a spokesman with Mr. Abbott’s office, said on Friday that the DNA samples taken from parents and children at the Yearning For Zion ranch had been sent to the court “in the last week,” though he wouldn’t speculate about whether that meant criminal charges were on the way.
Polygamy hearing’s witness list released
The witness list for Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on polygamy includes U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman and law enforcement from around the West.
The hearing, requested by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will explore “Crimes Associated with Polygamy: The Need for a Coordinated State and Federal Response.”
Reid, who has pushed for a federal task force, is expected to be the first witness. He will be followed by Tolman; Gregory Brower, the U.S. Attorney for Nevada; Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Abbott’s office is leading a criminal investigation into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A Schleicher County grand jury is reconvening in Eldorado, Texas, today to consider issuing indictments against sect members.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was invited to testify, but he is still recovering from a leg injury after a motorcycle accident and won’t be able to attend, his spokesman said.
Shurtleff favors forming a task force; Tolman has said increased communication would suffice. Top state and federal law enforcement officials from Utah, Arizona and Nevada met in June to discuss cooperating in investigations.
Also scheduled to testify Thursday: Stephen Singular, Denver author of When Men Become Gods, and Carolyn Jessop, the West Jordan author of the memoir Escape. Both books focus on the FLDS, the polygamous sect traditionally based on the Utah-Arizona border.
Dan Fischer, a former FLDS member and Sandy businessman who has funded lawsuits against the sect and assisted departing members, also has been asked to appear.
Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney and FLDS spokesman, has said the Senate committee should give equal time at the hearing to sect members.
FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop will travel to D.C., along with several other FLDS members, to observe the proceedings. The sect also plans to present a statement to be read into the official record.
“This sends a clear message that the politicians of the nation don’t want to know the facts of the matter but only the facts that fit their cause,” Jessop said. “Today it’s the FLDS, but tomorrow it will be someone else’s religion.”