Thursday, September 21, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, September 21, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fundamentalist Town Trial Follows the Money

PHOENIX (CN) - Members of the Colorado City Marshal's Office donated money to the fundamentalist Mormon church to support Warren Jeffs' unsuccessful defense of child sexual assault charges, his former sister-in-law testified Wednesday.

The Department of Justice sued the border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz. in 2012, claiming they discriminate against people who do not belong to Jeffs' church by denying them access to water, utilities and police protection. The federal jury trial is expected to last 5 weeks. Jeffs is serving life in prison plus 20 years for sexually assaulting 12- and 15-year-old girls.

On Wednesday, Charlene Jeffs, who was married to Warren's brother Lyle, testified that she occasionally helped her husband keep records of tithings, consecrations and donations to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We all knew the money was going to go to [Warren]," Jeffs told the jury.

Charlene Jeffs, 50, said two members of the Colorado City Marshal's Office, Helaman Barlow and Curtis Cooke, donated to the cause.

Charlene Jeffs entered into an arranged marriage with Lyle when she was 18 and moved to the Short Creek community in 2001 on orders from her father-in-law, Rulon Jeffs. The community includes both Hildale and Colorado City.

"We had a wonderful life together," she told the jury softly, of their early years together.

Church members were taught not to provide any information to the federal government when questioned, a practice that began under former FLDS leader John Y. Barlow.

"I wouldn't say a fat, black lie, but white ones, yes," Charlene Jeffs said.

She was exiled from the community in 2012 and Lyle made her live in a trailer, she said.

"I had never, ever in my entire life been alone," she said, breaking down into tears. "If I by chance saw one of my children at the gas station, I was shunned."

She was awarded custody of her children in April 2015.

She said Colorado City Marshal's Office Officer Curtis Cooke attended one custody hearing in uniform.

"He told me he was sent by the church to witness the proceedings," she testified.

The Justice Department's lawsuit specifically called out the Marshal's Office, claiming it "fails to protect non-FLDS individuals from victimization by FLDS members, fails to investigate crimes against non-FLDS individuals and their property, and refuses to arrest FLDS individuals who have committed crimes against non-FLDS individuals."

Jeff Matura, an attorney for Colorado City, disputed Jeffs' testimony, saying that Cooke and Marshal Hyrum Roundy helped her get a welfare check on her children and returned the children to her after she was granted custody.

But Charlene Jeffs said that though Roundy did perform a welfare check on her children, it was only after she arrived at the Marshal's Office with her attorney and a crew from 20/20.

"I had a 20/20 cameraman and one of the anchors come with me because I knew the element of surprise," Jeffs testified.

She said Roundy repeatedly hung up on her when she called him from outside the Marshal's Office.

"I said I am here to do a welfare check on my children and he hung up on me again," Jeffs said.

When he finally spoke to her, she said he told her, "You will not see your children if a camera crew was there." Roundy eventually allowed her and her attorney see her children.

The court also heard testimony from Nick Hanna, a Texas Ranger who began investigating the FLDS church after a raid on the YFZ Ranch.

The ranch was built by the church as a "land of refuge" for members to escape scrutiny of the federal government. It was raided by Texas law enforcement in late March 2008 after a domestic violence hotline received a phone call from a woman she said she had suffered physical and sexual abuse at the ranch.

Five hundred and thirty-three women and children were removed from the ranch after the raid. Evidence obtained there was used to help convict Warren Jeffs. The voice that called into the hotline was later determined to be that of Rozita Swanson, a Colorado Springs woman who had previously made hoax calls.

Hanna detailed the "thousands of pages" of priesthood records found during the raid, including numerous transcripts of phone conversations and sermons. The transcripts were typed out by a number of Warren Jeffs' wives, including Naomie, who was with Jeffs when he was arrested in August 2006.

A number of the records indicated a close relationship between the church and city officials.

In one dictation, Warren Jeffs said he gave then-Colorado City Mayor Richard Allred a "small correcting."

In a transcript from May 20, 2005, Jeffs said that he'd called Allred and strongly warned him: "Do not compromise with the world or with our enemies."

In a transcript from Jan. 5, 2006, Warren Jeffs said he'd told another church member to tell Allred that his "priesthood was in question," and that he was to separate himself from his family, but he could continue as mayor.

By February, church members were told that Allred no longer had priesthood, and had been told to resign as mayor and go to Fargo, N.D., and repent.

The trial continues Thursday.

Follow @@jamierossCNS
Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.