Religion News Blog — In the four years since Texas authorities raided a ranch belonging to the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) state prosecutors have spent more than $4.5 million racking up swift convictions against him and 10 loyal followers on child sex and bigamy charges, The Associated Press reports:
Combined with other state agency costs surrounding the April 3, 2008 raid, documents show the price tag is approaching $20 million for what began as a chaotic roundup of nearly 400 children and grew into one of the largest criminal cases in recent Texas history.
The saga is now all but over. Last week, state prosecutors convicted the last of 11 men arrested at the Yearning for Zion Ranch. All received prison time, including a life sentence for Jeffs.
According to AP Jerry Strickland, spokesman for the Texas attorney general’s office by comparison, $19.5 million total was spent on all criminal prosecutions in 2010 and 2011.
Wendell Loy Nielsen, the man convicted last week, was the former president of the FLDS’ legal entity until he was reportedly excommunicated — along with several other FLDS leaders — in February 2011, when cult leader Warren Jeffs, then still awaiting trial, retook his position as president.
Jeffs, one of the men indicted on the basis of evidence discovered during the raid, was convicted last August, and sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison.
The raid was sparked by phone call from what authorities at the time believed to be a 16-year-old girl who, in a harrowing account of life inside the sect’s ranch, said she was forced to have sex and was beaten regularly. That call was later determined to have been a hoax.
Attorneys for the FLDS defendants for that reason argued that the search warrant authorizing the raid was invalid, but an appeals court last year ruled that authorities had sufficient grounds for probable cause.
During the raid over 400 children were taken into protective custody, but Texas courts — rejecting arguments that the group’s belief system is itself a dangerous form of abuse — later ordered the children to be returned to their parents.
Warren Jeffs and several of his followers still face separate bigamy charges, but Strickland said his office has not yet decided whether to also prosecute the bigamy allegations.
Canadian authorities in recent days have renewed investigations into allegations that underaged girls have been trafficked between the sect’s Canadian outpost and US bases for the purpose of ‘spiritual marriages‘ to older men.