|More than 400 children of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were taken into state custody - in what authorities described Monday as the largest child-welfare operation in Texas history.
A church compound of polygamists was filled with sexual abuse, say child welfare officers in court documents. One man married many girls (as soon as they could have babies) some giving birth while only 10 or 11 years old.
By MICHELLE ROBERTS, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 9, 6:46 PM ET
SAN ANGELO, Texas - Lawyers for a polygamist sect that is the subject of a massive child-abuse investigation argued in court Wednesday that although its members' multiple marriages and cloistered ways may be unusual, they have a right to their faith and privacy.
Gerry Goldstein, a San Antonio lawyer representing the, also told a judge that the search of the temple in the sect's West Texas compound is analagous to a law enforcement search of the or other holy places.
Goldstein asked the judge to throw out at least some of the search warrants as unconstitutional, but failing that urged authorities to handle any documents seized with respect.
Prosecutor Allison Palmer countered that the purpose in seizing the documents was to uncover evidence of criminal activity, not to malign a religion.
State troopers and child welfare officials began a search of the FLDS compound in Eldorado last Thursday after a 16-year-old girl there called a local family violence shelter to report her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her. The search warrant covered all documents related to marriages among sect members, including photos and entries possibly written in family Bibles.
Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Dale Barlow, 50, who is believed to be in.
Barlow was sentenced to jail last year after pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He was ordered to register as a sex offender for three years while he is on probation.
Child welfare investigators said their interviews with 416 children and 139 women who have been removed from or left the compound since the raid began revealed that girls were required to enter into a 'spiritual' and polygamous marriage — recognized by the church but forbidden by Texas law — with much older men for the purpose of producing children. Boys were raised to perpetuate the cycle.
The affidavits signed by chief investigator Lynn McFadden detail the 16-year-old's hushed phone calls, but days after raiding the West Texas compound, officials still aren't sure where the girl is. She is not named among the children in initial custody petitions by the state.
Authorities were trying to determine the identities and parentage of many of the children; some were unwilling or unable to provide the names of their biological parents or identified multiple mothers.
Texas authorities say they have legal custody of the 416 children, all of those believed to have lived at the ranch, which is about 40 miles south of San Angelo and a nearly 200-mile drive west of.
Court documents said a number of teen girls at the 1,700-acre compound were pregnant, and all the children were removed on the grounds that they were in danger of "emotional, physical, and-or sexual abuse."
An unknown number of men and women were at the ranch while authorities completed the search of the gleaming 80-foot-high temple, a cheese-making plant, a cement plant, a school, a doctor's office and housing units. Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday the adults were not being held, but if they left the compound, they could not return while the search continued.
At least two FBI agents were seen entering the back entrance of the temple on Tuesday. Spokesmen for theand DPS declined comment.
Theinvestigation is the state's first of FLDS members, but prosecutors in and have pursued several church members in recent years, including sect leader Warren Jeffs. He is serving two consecutive sentences of five years to life for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old wed to her cousin in Utah. He awaits trial on other charges in Arizona.
Two men in the compound have been arrested and charged with interfering with the Eldorado search.