19 Jun 2008

Utah birth records sought in probe of FLDS couples' ages

Salt Lake Tribune - June 19, 2008

by Brooke Adams

Utah birth certificates may be playing a significant role in an investigation into possible sexual abuse at a polygamous sect's Texas ranch, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned.
An Arizona investigator requested copies of birth certificates for approximately 25 FLDS couples from the YFZ Ranch - about 50 people in all - to confirm their dates of birth, according to Jeff Duncan, director of the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics.
Gary Engels, a special investigator for Mohave County, Ariz., made the request for information first to the Utah Attorney General's Office, which referred him to the vital statistics office.
"I never heard anything directly from the state of Texas," Duncan said.
Engels has spearheaded the investigation of polygamy-related cases from Colorado City, Ariz. The town and adjacent Hildale, Utah, are the traditional home base of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Engels provided a spreadsheet with names of men and women and their ages, apparently based on bishop's records and other evidence seized from the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.
Texas authorities raided the ranch, an outpost of the sect, on April 3 after receiving a call for help that later proved to be hoax.
Texas Child Protective Services removed some 450 children whom they alleged were in danger
of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The children were returned to their parents two months later after the Texas Supreme Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to show all the children were at risk.
But the child welfare case involving the children remains open and, using DNA tests and other evidence, CPS is investigating whether specific children have been abused.
The Texas Attorney General's Office also is leading a separate criminal investigation that may be focused, at least in part, on illegal marriages between older men and underage girls.
The ages of men may be relevant because Texas law bars sexual relationships between teens who are younger than 17 and men who are more than three years older. Teens can legally consent to sex at age 17 in Texas, although they can legally marry with a parent's permission at 16.
Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the agency is "working with a number of investigators," but did not elaborate.
"Our investigation encompasses a wide range of information and I am unable to provide specifics on the types of information we are gathering," she said in an e-mail.
Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's office, declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah AG's Office, would not comment specifically on the Texas investigation but said that, "We have, from time to time, educated researchers, lawyers, law enforcement staff and citizens on the proper office that may respond to a request for a birth certificate." Duncan said the search of Utah records did yield some information.
During custody hearings in April, a Texas judge refused to accept birth certificates offered by FLDS women as proof of their age or their status as a parent. Duncan said Texas officials never contacted his office about the authenticity of the documents.
However, FLDS members contacted Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. for help, including verifying information on the documents. Huntsman's office, in turn, asked Duncan's office whether it was possible to authenticate birth certificates.
"I told them I could verify facts and the paper it is on, but I never heard back from them," Duncan said.
As the Texas investigation unfolded, Duncan said the Vital Statistics office in St. George received several requests to issue delayed birth certificates for children born more than a year ago.
The requests, forwarded to Salt Lake City, were refused because information provided to document the births and the child's parents was insufficient, he said.
"If we refuse to file a delayed birth certificate, they have to go to court and get a judge to issue [it]," Duncan said.
Arizona authorities have successfully used birth certificates of women and their offspring to prosecute FLDS men for sexual conduct with minors. The documents have been used to prove a woman was a minor at the time she gave birth to a child.
In Arizona, it is a crime for anyone under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity.
Duncan said the Utah Attorney General's Office also has gathered information from birth certificates in the past as part of investigations into polygamous groups.

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