May 17, 2008
The cost of the FLDS case

It's always funny how there's never any money in the budget for some things, while for others the sky is the limit. For example, the polygamist sect raid, for which the costs are mounting every day.

Last month's raid of a West Texas polygamist sect's ranch and the removal of the more than 460 children living there has cost the state at least $10 million in sheltering and legal costs, according to estimates provided by state offices Friday.

Records released by Gov. Rick Perry's office show $7.5 million in estimated costs for April, including expenses related to the weeklong search of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect.

The costs of sheltering the children and some of their mothers for three weeks in San Angelo city facilities added to the offices' estimate. The period covered ends April 23, after the state had won temporary custody of the children based on arguments that underage marriages at the ranch put all of them at risk of child abuse, and was moving them to foster facilities around the state.

Additionally, the state's Office of Court Administration estimated legal costs associated with the custody wrangling has been $2.3 million.

The legal costs to the state include $226,820 for court costs, expert witness and consulting fees; $865,917 for court personnel and visiting judges; and $1.16 million for copies and travel for the hundreds of lawyers donating their time to represent the children as court-appointed attorneys ad litem.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who represents a city where about 40 percent of the sect's children are now in foster care, said the state can't put a price tag on protecting children.

"On its face, it seems like a high number," he said. "I'm just glad we're erring on the side of caution when it comes to children."

I admire Sen. Uresti, but he's wrong about this. We're not erring on the side of caution, we're just simply erring (large PDF file).

It is clear from the recently unsealed Colorado Springs arrest warrant affidavit for Rozita Swinton that Texas authorities were well aware of the fact that the two telephones utilized to make numerous calls to the New Bridge Family Shelter "Crisis Hotline" in San Angelo were registered to telephone numbers outside the State of Texas. This information, together with the determination that the alleged perpetrator, Dale Barlow, was not present on the premises prior to initiation of the search, warranted further investigation.

Both of these telephones had Colorado Springs, Colorado area codes (area code 719). Upon calling the Colorado Springs Police Department (Sergeant Mandel) Texas authorities were immediately advised that one of these telephone numbers was associated with an individual who had made numerous "false reports of sexual abuse to police agencies" in the Colorado Springs area. All-in-all the investigation reveals that Rozita Swinton has been linked to false allegations of sexual abuse to over ten different child protection and law enforcement agencies, dating back to 2005, in cities across the country from Monroe, Washington to Ft. Meyers, Florida.

That's via Grits, who's owned this story, and who points out that there are questions of legal procedure being raised that may taint any evidence gathered anyway. Between the provably bogus phone tip, the lack of any real evidence of abuse, and the trauma that's being inflicted on these children by separating them from their families, it's really hard for me to see how any of this, not just the cost, can be justified. I hope Sen. Uresti and all of his colleagues will take a more skeptical view of this situation.

There are other considerations as well. Such as the state basically telling these folks to renounce their faith if they want their kids back.

In advance of court hearings that begin Monday, Child Protective Services has drafted 10 goals and 14 tasks that parents will have to work toward to regain custody of their children.

CPS is proposing to give parents until next April to "provide a home free of persons who have or will abuse" children and "demonstrate the ability to protect the child[ren] from sexual abuse." The children will remain in state custody until a judge is satisfied that the parents have complied.

On Wednesday, CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins stressed that the guidelines - known as service plans - are silent about plural marriage and religious beliefs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

"This is not about polygamy and it is not about religion," Mr. Crimmins said. "It is about child sexual abuse and our commitment to protect children."

He said, though, that youngsters were removed from the ranch because "children could not be safe there. We are trying to determine what acceptable living arrangements the parents can develop so the children are safe and protected."


Susan Hays of Dallas, a court-appointed lawyer for a 2-year-old girl removed from the sect's ranch, said many of the women lack job training and would have a hard time making it in modern society as single mothers.

University of Texas law professor Jack Sampson said that under national and state welfare reform laws, which spell out time limits and other requirements, cash assistance to the mothers wouldn't last long.

Ms. Hays said some mothers "certainly could" have to choose between their religious beliefs and their children.

"Child rape is not part of their faith," Ms. Hays said of the group. "Polygamy is. Somewhere in between there is where faith ends and abuse begins. The state needs to articulate how they see it."

Mr. Sampson, an expert on family law, said there's no infringement on freedom of association and religion when the state must save children. He said state laws "do not recognize this as an exercise of religion" because underage sect girls have been sexually assaulted and teenage boys abandoned.

"Religion does not give you the right to sacrifice virgins as the Aztecs used to do. These people sacrifice virgins," Mr. Sampson said.

Ms. Hays countered: "These people are very Old Testament and they believe that God didn't come back and say, 'Never mind' to polygamy. Like Jews, Christians and Muslims, they're children of Abraham. And I believe Abraham was a polygamist."

For all the blathering we get from certain politicians about the need to respect people of faith, this doesn't seem very respectful of the FLDS faith. If the evidence in this case were stronger and less tainted, I'd have more sympathy for the government's actions here. But given how screwed up it all is, I'm very reluctant to see this go any farther. And the next time there's a big kerfuffle over public expressions of Christian belief, keep this in mind. It's not about religion, it's about a particular flavor of religion.

One last point, from Introspections of a Plural Wife:

Very interesting interview on the Today Show this morning (May 12, 2008), with two couples and Willie Jessop of the YFZ ranch, discussing their efforts to see their children.

One mother said that she has a daughter in state custody who is 23, but who the state of Texas insists is 15 or 16 years old. She says her daughter has a birth certificate and a driver's license, and that she herself submitted her own driver's license and attested to her daughter's age, but the state will not accept any of the identification as legitimate.

Emphasis mine. If this is true, then why are we about to have a debate about voter ID? I mean, if some random agent of the state can dismiss your driver's license and birth certificate as not being a legitimate form of identification, then what's the point of being required to display them? Again, just something to keep in mind.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 17, 2008 to Crime and Punishment

FLDS will get through the next visit unscathed and even repel crank calls from Colorado Springs if they abide by Texas laws and have their state documents and records in order so that the correct answers are immediately forthcoming.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on May 17, 2008 8:22 PM

I have to respectuflly disagree with you about this being ALL wrong. The pologomy aside (it's more of a religious marriage, versus a marriage recognized by the state), underaged children entering into marriage with an adult is just plain wrong for a whole myriad of reasons. I have no problem with honoring soneone's religious freedom unless it steps on another's personal rights.

Posted by: becky on May 18, 2008 8:36 AM

Let's call a spade a spade.
The raid on the FLDS compound was overdue - three years overdue.
The law in Texas forbids a person from marrying another when they are married without divorce or widowhood.
That on its very face makes every one of these "spiritual marriages" or "plural marriages" or "polygamous marriages" outright fraud.
In addition, the children of these 'marriages' are often registered as children of 'single mothers' in order to collect AFDC, Medicaid, S-Chip and other benefits -- intentionally committing yet more costly fraud, this time at the expense of Texas taxpayers. On top of that these cult "patriarchs" trade the women among their favorite followers like so much property, and are known to send women and children across state and even national borders for immoral purposes (namely women under the age of 18 as well as over the age of 18 sent from one location to another with the intent that the women will engage in sexual acts with men at the destination), which is a violation of the federal law, the Mann Act.
Religious tolerance is a worthy goal. Toleration of child abuse, rape and ritual sex slavery in the name of religion, however, is NOT what the Constitution protects.
Furthermore, I'd be willing to pay a state income tax to finance continued enforcement of the laws of the United States of America and the State of Texas against mistreatment of women and children of the type the FLDS and its sister sects engage in , as a disincentive to more such cults moving to Texas.
That the results here were not the same as the disastrous Federally-(mis)led raid on the Branch Davidian in Waco is nothing short of a miracle, but to return children to a community that expects girls to marry at puberty and throws its boys away to reduce competition for young women among its males is reprehensible at best and immoral at least, and the State of Texas has no business doing such a thing over money.

Posted by: The_Other_Sarah on May 19, 2008 6:17 PM

So far CPS has not found any abuse. So we are at what, $7.5 million and counting. Some estimates are saying $30 million by end of year.

They did not save one child from abuse by any normal/legal definition, so all Texas gets stuck with is a big fat bill ... and a reputation for being the biggest bunch of dumb hicks on the planet.

Posted by: alex abby on May 20, 2008 7:12 PM

I was born in WV but now live in New Zealand. Both New Zealand and Australia have stronger child protection laws than Texas. But I trust our child protection officers and courts never would have done such a wide sweeping, overreaching, and just plain stupid mass "round up" as what has been done in Texas with the FLDS religion. Now as of 21May, we read here that 10 "teens" have now been admitted by CPS to be adults (and apparently more "teen adults" to come). Texas and the USA are quickly becoming the laughing stock of the world as regards religious tolerance/freedom.

Posted by: alex abby on May 21, 2008 1:13 AM
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