An affidavit filed in a Canadian court case shows nine teen girls may have been brought from Canada to the US to marry jailed polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs and other men from his church.
The 55-year-old Jeffs is head of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). He’s jailed in Texas awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault and bigamy. Prosecutors say Jeffs had sex with two children, one under age 14 and the other under age 17. A court entered not guilty pleas on his behalf.
According to the affidavit filed on Thursday, between 2004 and 2006 nine girls aged 12 to 18 were brought from Canada specifically for the weddings.
The papers say at least three of the girls — two aged 12 and one aged 13 — were married to Jeffs. It’s not clear from the records whether the girls are the same victims whose relationships with Jeffs are the basis for the Texas charges. All three of those marriage occurred in 2004, when Jeffs would have been 48.
Of the six other girls, one was 16, four were 17 and one was 18, according to the record. They all married other church men, although the records don’t identify any of the husbands by name or age. The record shows the 16-year-old girl also had a baby the next year while living in Canada.
At least two of the ceremonies appear to have been held in the FLDS-dominated border towns of Hildale, Utah, or Colorado City, Arizona. The location of the other ceremonies aren’t included in the records, and the records don’t say where the girls lived after they were married.
The information in the affidavit stems from church records seized by Texas authorities during a 2008 raid on the church’s Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado. The raid was prompted by the allegations that a teen bride had been abused by her much-older husband.
Jeffs is one of a dozen FLDS men who were charged after the raid with crimes that included sexual assault and bigamy. Seven have been prosecuted and all have been convicted.
The affidavit was filed by an attorney for the Ministry of Attorney General for British Columbia. The province’s supreme court is in the middle of a months-long inquiry to decide whether a ban on polygamy is a violation of constitutionally protected religious rights.
In Utah, Jeffs was convicted in 2007 of two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of a 14-year-old follower to her 19-year-old cousin. The state’s supreme court overturned the convictions last year and state attorneys have not yet decided whether to retry the case.
On Friday, Utah Attorney General spokesman Paul Murphy said the office did not know about the allegations contained in the affidavit. He said Texas authorities reviewing the thousands of pages of evidence seized in the raid had agreed to notify Utah if they uncovered any evidence suggesting crimes had occurred in Utah.
The FLDS practices polygamy in marriages arranged through church leaders. Historically some unions have involved underage girls.
FLDS marriages are often called “spiritual” marriages because they are religious marriages, not legal marriages. The faith has about 10,000 members. Most live in along the Utah-Arizona border. Besides the Texas ranch, the faith has enclaves in South Dakota and Bountiful, British Columbia.