11 Dec 2010

Disabled man raised by Mormon polygamists files federal complaint against sect for cutting off utilities to drive him out



Courthouse News Service - June 29, 2010

Man Says Polygamists Tried to Rid City of Perceived 'Tools of the Devil'

By TIM HULL


PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) - A disabled man claims members of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denied him water and electricity to drive him out of church-controlled Colorado City, Ariz., believing that "nonmembers are apostates and tools of the devil." Ronald Cooke says he needs the utilities to run his breathing machine and clean his catheters after he was hit by a truck and left "severally disabled."

In his federal complaint, Cooke claims that Hilldale-Colorado City Utilities, which he says is controlled by the polygamist sect, has for years refused to provide electricity and water to his home, forcing him and his family to live in a "cramped, cold travel trailer" powered by a propane generator.

Cooke says the lack of utilities has exacerbated his medical condition.

Cooke was raised in the polygamist sect but left the rural town on the Arizona-Utah border when he was 18, according to his complaint. He returned to the town in 2007 to be near family and friends.

He applied to the United Effort Plan, a Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints housing cooperative that owns many of the houses in Colorado City, and began moving his family into an unfinished house that had been abandoned by its former owner.

Cooke says he was soon targeted by church members who "misuse and affect the availability of utility services ... as a method of preserving religious domination" over the town.

The defendants told him he had to get new permits and inspections to get utilities, and said the "system was overextended," Cooke says.

But the utility provided water and electric services to other unfinished homes without new permits, and Colorado City issued no new building permits between 2005 and 2009, according to the complaint.

Cooke says it's all part of an FLDS scheme to exclude nonmembers from Colorado City and its cross-border sister city, Hildale, Utah. He claims the sect sees nonmembers as "tools of the devil."

"Defendants and their agents, in order to support the religious doctrines and aims of FLDS, have denied nonmembers ... utility services and commingled governmental funds with church funds, thereby depleting revenues which should be legitimately used to provide utility services at the expense of residents of Colorado City," according to the complaint.

"Defendants have treated the governmental agencies that they control as arms of the FLDS religion, and utilized the powers and resources of these municipal entities to attempt to exclude nonmembers of FLDS, such as plaintiffs."

Cooke says that the utility recently began providing electricity, but continues to withhold water.
He sued the towns of Colorado City and Hilldale, along with Hilldale-Colorado City Utilities and Twin City Power, alleging violations of state and federal fair housing laws. He wants water service and unspecified damages. He is represented by William Walker.


This article was found at:

http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/06/29/28456.htm
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Courthouse News Service - July 2, 2010

Arizona Attorney General Sues Two Cities Dominated by Polygamous Mormon Sect

By JAMIE ROSS


PHOENIX (CN) - Attorney General Terry Goddard has backed up a disabled man's claim that a utilities company run by the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denied him water and electricity because he did not have a building permit, though the utility does not require such permits from sect members. Goddard's Superior Court complaint against Hilldale-Colorado City Utilities supports Ronald Cooke's claim that the sect "instructed members that apostates were tools of the devil."

Cooke sued the utility company and the Town of Colorado City in Prescott, Ariz., Federal Court. Goddard's complaint in Maricopa County Court tracks Cooke's claims.

Goddard agrees that in July 2000, leaders of the fundamentalist sect "instructed members that apostates were tools of the devil, and that there were dangers in associating with apostates."

Goddard agrees with Cooke's claim that he needs running water to clean his catheters, bathe and to avoid infections after a traumatic brain and spinal cord injury he suffered in 2005.

Cooke was raised in the FLDS religion and grew up in the Colorado City, Ariz. area, but left the religion at age 18 or 19. Cooke returned to the town in 2007 and was denied water service in 2009 after Utility Board President Jonathan Fischer claimed that "no new families would be placed in homes not previously connected to the water systems," Goddard says.

In his complaint, Cooke said that "people often live in unfinished homes in Colorado City for years during construction without getting new building permits." Cooke said the lack of utilities exacerbated his medical problems.

Cooke applied to the United Effort Plan, a Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints housing cooperative that owns many houses in Colorado City, and began moving his family into an unfinished house that had been abandoned by its former owner. The defendants allegedly refused an offer on Oct. 29, 2009 by United Effort Plan to "trade an existing water service connection on UEP land, so that Cooke could have a new water service connection."

But the utility provided water and electric services to other unfinished homes without new permits, and Colorado City issued no new building permits between 2005 and 2009, according to the complaint.

Cooke says it's all part of an FLDS scheme to exclude nonmembers from Colorado City and its sister city, Hilldale, Utah. He claims the sect sees nonmembers as "tools of the devil."

"Defendants and their agents, in order to support the religious doctrines and aims of FLDS, have denied nonmembers ... utility services and commingled governmental funds with church funds, thereby depleting revenues which should be legitimately used to provide utility services at the expense of residents of Colorado City," according to his complaint.

"Defendants have treated the governmental agencies that they control as arms of the FLDS religion, and utilized the powers and resources of these municipal entities to attempt to exclude nonmembers of FLDS, such as plaintiffs."

Goddard seeks declaratory judgment that the defendants violated the Arizona Fair Housing Act by denying Cooke's request for "reasonable accommodation necessary to afford Cooke an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling in Colorado City, and did not pose an undue burden for defendants." He also wants the defendants to connect Cooke's property to the municipal water system.

Cooke says that the utility recently began providing him with electricity, but continues to withhold water.

Goddard sued Hilldale-Colorado City Utilities, Twin City Water Authority, Twin City Power, the City of Hilldale, and the Town of Colorado City.


This article was found at:

http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/07/02/28562.htm

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Salt Lake Tribune - July 7, 2010

Arizona sues polygamist sect for alleged discrimination

By BROOKE ADAMS


The Arizona Attorney General's office alleges in a newly filed lawsuit that leaders in a polygamous community violated a disabled man's civil rights by denying him power and water service because he does not belong to the faith.

The lawsuit chronicles attempts by Ronald and Jinjer Cooke to get utility services connected to a home they are renting from the United Effort Plan Trust, which owns virtually all property in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

A majority of residents in the towns are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a splinter group that believes in polygamy. FLDS members hold all elected and appointed positions in the cities. And the polygamist sect controls the trust.

The federal lawsuit alleges the cities' jointly operated water and power utility companies violated the Arizona Fair Housing Act in refusing the Cookes' request for water service.

It asks that the court order the Twin City Water Authority to connect the Cookes' rental home to the community's water system and provide service to any other non-FLDS resident who requests a hook up. It also asks the entities be fined $50,000 for the initial violation and $100,000 for any additional violations.

Ronald Cooke grew up in the twin towns but left the faith when he was about 18. He moved to Phoenix, where he worked in construction. In 2005, Cooke was doing road work when he was hit by a truck and suffered numerous injuries, including a traumatic brain and spinal cord injury.

Cooke decided to return to the community to be near family and in February 2008 signed an occupancy agreement with the UEP Trust's Housing Advisory Board for an unfinished, unoccupied home on Academy Avenue.

Cooke; his wife, Jinjer; and their three children moved a travel trailer onto the property that May. They planned to stay in the trailer for about a month while the single-level home was finished and connected to the utility systems.

According to the lawsuit, Cooke needs running water to "clean catheters, bathe frequently, avoid infection and wash laundry" and electricity to operate an assisted-breathing machine he uses at night.

But the cities either took no action or rejected several applications filed by Cooke for water service, claiming the utility department could not provide new connections because of an ongoing water shortage in the community. City officials said approving his application would only lead to more requests for new connections and overload the system.

Cooke filed a housing discrimination complaint with the Arizona Civil Rights Division in December 2008, alleging disability and religious discrimination. The division ruled in his favor in April and set a deadline of June 25 for the parties to try to resolve the dispute or face state action.

Garkane Power, which is not associated with the twin cities, eventually delivered electricity to the home, but Cooke still does not have water service.

Meanwhile, other problems have surfaced: Robert Black, the home's original occupant, tried to assert his claim to the property but a UEP representative denies Black has any right to the home. Also, an irrigation company has accused the Cookes of diverting water -- something they deny.

The lawsuit alleges the cities placed numerous demands on Cooke -- such as requiring him to provide construction plans and building permits, and to pay hookup fees -- that it does not require of FLDS members.

Blake Hamilton, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents Hildale City and the utility departments, said the entities learned of the lawsuit after it was attached to a filing in a separate matter in a Utah court last week.

"It is unfortunate this lawsuit has been filed. It is important that people know (the entities) worked very hard to resolve this matter before it went into litigation," he said.


This article was found at:

http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/55027
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Deseret News - July 14, 2010

Tense relations lead to violent threat in FLDS communities

By Emiley Morgan | Deseret News


HILDALE, Washington County — An ongoing rift between those who live in the twin polygamist communities of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., and those who have been court-appointed to oversee their assets has escalated to the point that the Arizona Attorney General's Office is asking for an emergency court hearing to address the issues.

The "emergency report" was filed last week and outlined conflicts over grain silos, fields, basic utilities and homes and allegations that local law enforcement has failed to abide by arrangements made by accountant Bruce Wisan, who oversees the Fundamentalist LDS Church's United Effort Plan Trust.

The trust was created by the FLDS Church in 1942 on the concept of a "united order," allowing followers to share in its assets. Utah courts took control of the trust in 2005 following allegations that it had been mismanaged by church leader Warren Jeffs.

Members of the sect have long held that 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg's decision to reform the trust, which is valued at more than $110 million and holds most of the property in Hildale, Colorado City and Bountiful, British Columbia, was a violation of their First Amendment rights to practice their religion freely. Lindberg appointed Wisan as the special fiduciary of the trust and later authorized the sale of Berry Knoll, a 438-acre parcel of land church members claim was consecrated for a temple, to repay the trust's $3 million debt.

One exhibit attached to the filing includes a tape recorded threat allegedly made by frustrated Trust Advisory Board member Seth Cooke. In the recording, he tells a law enforcement officer that if a plowing issue on Berry Knoll wasn't resolved, he would "go get my .270 and come out here and start shooting people."

Cooke resigned from the board following a recommendation from the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

The filing also asserts that the local government has refused to provide Cooke's brother, Ron — a disabled former FLDS member who was leased a home by Wisan — with basic utilities.

Relations have declined to that point that the attorney general is asking for a court hearing to discuss "events and conditions involving administration of the trust that display growing tension among local residents in Colorado City and Hildale and either confusion about or outright disregard for the authority of this court by law enforcement officers."

The filing asks specifically for a hearing "on or after July 27," but no date has been scheduled.


This article was found at:

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700048109/Arizona-seeks-emergency-hearing-on-2-FLDS-towns.html



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