Utah AG may be investigating human trafficking crimes in FLDS towns

Posted at 5:09 PM, Nov 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-11 23:59:35-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Attorney General's Office may be conducting an investigation into human trafficking and labor violations involving the Fundamentalist LDS Church, according to an advocate in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

"They sent two people from the human trafficking task force down to Hildale," Christine Marie Katas, the founder of the group Voices For Dignity, told FOX 13. "There was evidence of human trafficking and we're trying to figure out what to do."

Katas described the investigation as involving child and adult labor. A spokesman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said they had no comment on any investigation the office may be conducting. Recently, the federal government has sued FLDS-linked companies over child labor violations.

Katas spoke about human trafficking in polygamy as part of an event put on last week focusing on polygamy and the law, put on by the groups Sound Choices Coalition, Holding Out HELP and the law firm York Howell & Guymon. Attorneys, advocates and lawmakers attended the day-long event to discuss legal issues related to plural marriage (like child custody issues), pending court cases and best practices for working with people in and out of polygamous communities.

"There's different needs and there's a lot of need for legal services," said Alina Darger, a plural wife and the director of the group Cherish Families, who attended the meeting.

There are an estimated 38,000 fundamentalist Mormons in and around Utah. They subscribe to the belief system that includes the practice of polygamy, but they insist there is wide diversity within their own communities from independent polygamists who live openly and all over the state, to more secluded and authoritarian churches, like the FLDS Church.

"The courts have started to treat people as people and they understand every situation is different and nuanced," Darger said.

The meeting happens as the state approaches a crossroads in its handling of polygamy. The U.S. Supreme Court could take up a legal challenge against Utah's historic ban on polygamy filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives. (Utah abandoned the practice of polygamy as a condition of statehood.)

"I would like to see Brown win and I would like to see decriminalization because I think it helps families whether they are are in polygamy or out of polygamy," Darger told FOX 13. "(It will) drive things up that are underground due to the criminal nature of things."

Parker Douglas, the federal solicitor for the Utah Attorney General's Office, said they will argue to the Supreme Court that Brown and his wives never faced a threat of prosecution by the state so the case should not be considered.

"Our policy, as we've said all along, is we don't prosecute polygamy as a standalone offense unless there is fraud or abuse connected to that," he said.

Katas said she opposes what she terms "coercive polygamy." She said lawmakers are getting a good idea of the issues within the communities.

"They're realizing the big divide between the types of families that are happy and the Warren Jeffs totalitarian-type dictatorship polygamy," Katas said.