"A Senate committee on Thursday heard appeals for the creation of a federal task force to combat polygamist sects that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described as sophisticated organized crime rings.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office has received nationwide attention for its investigation of a sect in Texas, was among those backing legislation sponsored by Reid, D-Nev. The bill would establish a task force in the U.S. Department of Justice and assist victims of polygamist groups.
The hearing, which included testimony from two former sect members, spotlighted the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints (FLDS) led by Warren Jeffs, who was once on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. Jeffs and four of his followers were indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in Texas for felony assault of a child.
Abbott told reporters after the hearing that further action is likely as investigators sift through "boxes and boxes" of documents and examine other evidence. "I would say we’re in the early stages of our investigation," Abbott said.
Reid, who once took on mob bosses when he sought to clean up Las Vegas casinos as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that polygamist sects are a "form of organized crime" that have spread into numerous states, as well as Canada and Mexico.
"I am not saying that they are the same thing as the crime syndicates that used to run Las Vegas," Reid said. "But they engage in an ongoing pattern of serious crimes that we ignore at our peril."
He cited a "web of criminal conduct that includes welfare fraud, tax evasion, massive corruption and strong-arm tactics." "
All I can say is "Geez, what took you so long." It’s not like there is not a wealth of evidence of the wrongdoings of the sect. What has been missing (and still might be, we will see) is the political will to go after a fundamentalist religious group for fear of being perceived as anti-religion.
Locally, the political problem is the presence of FLDS in current law enforcement agencies or of ancestors who practiced polygamy among criminal justice officials. Either way, the sect has enjoyed impunity thanks to this ambivalence.
On the one hand, you all the trappings of a cult in order to strictly control the members and have limited leaks into the outside world (with enforcers if necessary). On the other hand, you have an organization dedicated to the economic exploitation of its members as well as massive fraud on government money to finance the lavish lifestyles of the prophets and their cronies.
So, what are the odds of success this time?
"Abbott said Reid’s legislation is necessary because polygamist groups are becoming a national problem. The state’s current investigation may not have been necessary if a task force had been in place five or 10 years ago, he said.
But U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman of Utah said that a task force "may not be a good fit" in investigating polygamist sects. The communities are self-contained and hard to penetrate, and their members are frequently uncooperative with law enforcement, he said.
"In this context, a task force may be too blunt an instrument to accomplish an effective investigation," he said."
Well, there goes your political will right there. Maybe, just maybe, one could look at the strategies that have worked with organized criminal organizations and cults, so as to get a few ideas about how to proceed. From my readings, it seems that successful prosecutions against organized criminal organizations (especially in Italy) have combined "follow the money" strategies, along with recruiting informants (with promises of immunity) and patient gathering of evidence followed by massive raids against the heads of the organizations. How about starting with that?