Saturday, February 26, 2011

RCMP investigation
Allegations prompt RCMP investigation into Bountiful

Warren Jeffs is led from the Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas after his pretrial hearing Jan. 5, 2011. (AP / San Angelo Standard-Times, Ken Grimm)

The Canadian Press

Date: Friday Feb. 25, 2011 7:19 PM ET

VANCOUVER — The Mounties are investigating allegations that two 12-year-old girls and a 13-year-old from Bountiful, B.C., were taken to the United States by their parents to marry a polygamous leader four times their age.

The man, Warren Jeffs, is now in jail facing child sex assault and bigamy charges.

The RCMP's renewed criminal investigation involves a total of nine teenage girls -- eight from Bountiful and one from the United States -- whose marriages are detailed in documents submitted in a B.C. court case examining Canada's polygamy law.

The records, filed in court since last week, stem from the 2008 raid of a polygamous compound in Texas and outline marriages between 2004 and 2006.

The province's attorney general alerted the RCMP last week, said Cpl. Annie Linteau.

"We initiated an investigation and that's ongoing," Linteau said in an interview.

Linteau said she couldn't reveal any further details, such as what potential charges the Mounties could consider.

The RCMP have investigated Bountiful several times during the past two decades, looking into allegations of polygamy, sexual abuse and human trafficking, but those investigations have never led to criminal trials or convictions.

The community's two leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, were each charged in 2009 with practising polygamy, but those charges were thrown out of court on technical grounds.

That prompted the provincial government to ask the B.C. Supreme Court to decide whether Canada's prohibition on multiple marriage is constitutional.

The hearings wrapped up earlier this month, with closing arguments scheduled for late next month, but the B.C. government was in court Friday asking for the new evidence to be admitted.

The records stem from the sensational 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch, a polygamous compound run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- known as the FLDS -- , near Eldorado, Texas.

Residents of Bountiful are also followers of the FLDS, which, unlike the mainstream Mormon church, still practises polygamy.

The marriages at issue began in 2004, when the documents allege four girls were married on a single day in Colorado City, Ariz.

They included a 13-year-old girl from Bountiful, who was married to 48-year-old Jeffs "for time and eternity." The girl's mother and father participated in the "celestial" marriage ceremony, according to court submissions prepared by the B.C. government.

Two 17-year-old girls from Bountiful were also married the same day to other men. They were "personally delivered" by Bountiful bishop James Oler, the documents allege. Jeffs presided over the marriage ceremonies.

Also on that day, a 16-year-old girl from the United States was married to a man from Bountiful. The court documents allege Oler was present at the ceremony.

The following year, two 12-year-old girls from Bountiful were married to Jeffs in Texas, according to the documents. They were each taken to the Colorado City area by their parents, and then transported to Texas by the FLDS.

And on April 26, 2006, the documents allege three more girls from Bountiful -- two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old -- were married in the United States.

"This is the first hard evidence, at least with respect to Bountiful girls, of marriages as young as 12," B.C. government lawyer Craig Jones told the court Friday.

"It provides evidence of the commodification of and trafficking in girls that was predicted as a consequence of polygamy (by expert witnesses)."

Jones explained that his office only received the documents from Texas earlier this month, and asked Chief Justice Robert Bauman to allow them to be entered into the record. Bauman said the documents can be tendered with the court, and he'll decide later whether they can be formally admitted.

The documents from Texas will remain sealed, even if they are admitted as evidence, because they relate to ongoing prosecutions and secret grand jury proceedings in the U.S.

During the 2008 raid, Texas authorities seized more than 400 children, most of whom were eventually returned to their families. Seven men were convicted of child sexual assault and abuse.

Jeffs, now 55, is currently in a Texas jail awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault and bigamy. Prosecutors have alleged he had sex with two children, one under 14 and the other under 17. The court has entered not guilty pleas on his behalf.

He could also face trial in Utah, where prosecutors are considering whether to retry him on charges of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of a 14-year-old follower to her 19-year-old cousin. He was found guilty in 2007, but the state's supreme court overturned that conviction last year.

A spokesman for Utah's attorney general said Friday his office hadn't heard about the latest allegations involving the Bountiful girls. Paul Murphy said authorities in Texas have been reviewing thousands of pages of evidence from the raid, and have agreed to pass along any information about potential crimes in Utah.

The FLDS has about 10,000 members, primarily living along the Utah-Arizona border, along with others in Texas and South Dakota.

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