August 12, 2008

Texas May Charge More in Polygamy Inquiry

Texas authoroties could charge as many as 50 members of a breakaway Mormon group with bigamy, a Utah newspaper reported Tuesday.

The Deseret Morning News said Texas Rangers are investigating 20 alleged cases of sexual assault involving the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Five church members have been indicted in Texas, including Warren Jeffs, the group's leader.

Earlier this year, Rangers raided the Yearning For Zion Ranch in El Dorado, Texas, after child welfare authorities received a call from someone claiming to be a teenager forced into marriage with an older man. That call is now believed to be a hoax, but investigators found evidence of teens younger than the legal age of consent in "spiritual marriages."

Rod Parker, a Utah lawyer who serves as a spokesman for the church, said he did not believe 50 men at the ranch were in polygamous marriages.

"I think they would have a problem coming up with 50 bigamy charges without charging the women," Parker said.

Bigamy charges are also difficult to bring when everyone involved is an adult and aware of the plural relationship and a man only marries one woman legally.