April 24th, 2008
02:21 PM ET

The phony call on Polygamy?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/24/art.polygamy.rozitaswinton2.jpg
caption="Rozita Swinton, 33, of Colorado Springs, Colo. A phone number used to report alleged child abuse at a Texas polygamist retreat had been used before by a Colorado woman, who's accused of making several false abuse claims in an unrelated case, according to authorities."]

Gary Tuchman
360° Correspondent

The dots are not yet completely connected - but it's getting there.

Now, it appears likely the reason authorities raided the polygamist sect’s ranch in Texas is because of a woman who has a history of making phony phone calls.

Rozita Swinton, 33, is a troubled woman. She was arrested in 2005 for making phony phone calls to authorities in the town of Castle Rock, Colorado. She repeatedly called and posed as a 16-year-old who was being sexually abused. She pleaded guilty, received a medical evaluation and was sentenced to probation.

But while in the middle of that probation, she is accused of starting to make the same kinds of calls to the Colorado Springs Police Department. These calls, however, went on for more than two years.

Police say although they were suspicious as time went on, they had to use resources each time in case the calls were real. They say she was hard to trace because she made some of the calls using disposable cell phones with pre-paid cards. At one point, she told police she had split personalities. Just last week, she was arrested for making those calls.

But that arrest was precipitated because of what may have been her biggest caper yet.

Authorities in Texas acknowledge that a phone number used to report abuse at the YFZ ranch in El Dorado, Texas, came from a phone used previously by Swinton. And to say the least, that is a startling and unpleasant development for police.

Authorities raided the compound after getting heartbreaking calls from a 16-year-old girl who said her name was Sarah. We know they were heartbreaking because we listened to one of the 75-minute calls as it was happening. "Sarah" said she was locked in a basement and had been impregnated by her father. If I were a cop, I would want to rescue this girl as soon as possible. And that is pretty much what happened.

Police in Texas went to a judge; the call was deemed probable cause and the raid was underway. More than 400 children were taken from their parents but authorities say a multitude of evidence was found to prove that minors had been sexually abused. However, authorities kept saying they hadn’t yet found Sarah. As a matter of fact, they still officially say they’re looking for her. But there is a good chance they will never find her because "Sarah" and Rozita Swinton may be one and the same.

There is no reason to believe this investigation will be curtailed because judges just want to make sure probable cause is obtained in good faith and there is no reason to think this was done in anything but good faith. In addition, the welfare of minor children trumps possible errors when probable cause is obtained. But there is a lot of irony with this prosecution.

For a couple of years now, we’ve asked authorities in Texas why they don’t do something about the abundant allegations of underage marriages inside the ranch. They kept telling us they couldn’t do anything unless they have probable cause. Well, as soon as they got "probable cause," they took action that was more dramatic than we might have expected. And now they’re dealing with this bizarre situation in which their initial evidence may have come from a troubled adult who appears to have nothing to do with the church.

The Texas Rangers say Swinton is a "person of interest" in their investigation. But they still officially say they’re looking for "Sarah." What I sense behind the scenes is a lot of scrambling by the Texas authorities because it’s all a bit embarrassing.

As far as Swinton goes, she is out on bail and we are quite anxious to talk to her and find out about her motivation. But she doesn’t answer the door at her Colorado Springs apartment.

Police and the management who run her apartment complex do say she has a female roommate. And while we were there, a woman came out of her apartment. When I asked her if she knew Swinton, she angrily stormed past me and said she would not talk. I feel badly for her, because my feeling is that she was hoodwinked like the rest of us.

Filed under: FLDS update • Gary Tuchman • Polygamy
soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. ME

    Funny isn't it.

    The FLDS has NO AFRICAN AMERICAN PEOPLE in their sect, cult, whatever you want to call it. Soooooo, how is it possible for this CRAZY girl knew all that information about the location of the ranch to give to authorities for them to do this raid?

    Polygamy is practices all over this country but some wives don't know about their husbands other women and some do they just choose to not know. BUT these people are just sick. No way am I going to sleep with a man who is fifty yrs old, not in shape, has no money, and shares a home with other men. NOT ME!!!!!. I'll wait for the trump

    May 2, 2008 at 5:49 pm |
  2. Spider

    Black Female Mormon-

    I think it's in the new networks best interest NOT to broadcast the faces of 13 and 14 year olds, for legal and moral reasons.
    My personal opinion, is that the men are hiding behind their women's skirts because, if they showed their faces and opened their mouths, the whole country would realize what a bunch of perverts they are.
    Besides, they want us to feel sorry for them. How better to do that than have the females cry and lament about their lost children? How sorry would we be for the 60 year old man who wants 10 year old Sally back because she's gonna be his 7th wife 4 years from now.

    April 25, 2008 at 8:22 pm |
  3. bf

    I think this if a very difficult situation. For one part, I do believe it is very wrong to force teenage girls into marriage and I am against polygamy, but for the other part, this is their culture and it should have some respect. To me, it was very wrong to seperate mothers from their children. I don't think that the parents are completely responsible for allowing their children to be married off so young because it's what they were also taught as children. On the other hand, I don't think that this case should be left alone. There has to be a right solution that will satisfy everyone. Maybe allowing the women and children to return to the YRZ ranch as long as they want to and heavy observation be upon them to insure that women and children are not being abused and that no one especially minors are forced to marry anyone that they don't want to. Hopefully the authorities will come up with a solution that will not have a bad affect on anyone, especially the children.

    April 25, 2008 at 5:15 pm |
  4. Bettina

    Why is it that the government is not requiring this sect to report it's birth and death records. How can that be in America. I thought everyone is required to pay taxes. Does this group pay any taxes? Why aren't there birth certificates and social security numbers for every child born. And where are they burying the dead. Someone could actually be born and died and the government would never know that they existed. What is going on here? Are there different standards for white groups in America. Someone needs to answer this questions and concerns that I have. Someone please enlighten me.

    April 25, 2008 at 2:03 pm |
  5. Ellen Johnson

    Why are Ms Swinton‘s actions are being portrayed criminal,, false reporting? Polygamist compounds have existed in the United States for years, the government has knowledge of this and what have they done? These compounds are protected by public officials elected by people in the community that they live. This is not about religion, it is about the law. What is the first law on record addressing age of consensual sex, when, if ever has it been revised and by who. Why is the punishment for drug offenses harsher then that of a sex offender, Perhaps if sex offenders we treated like Terrorist they could be caught before the ground breaking ceremony of the new compound? If Ms Swinton is charged in any way regarding the call(s) what message is being sent to the next person who might want to help a child.

    April 25, 2008 at 1:37 pm |
  6. Bonny Bergstrom

    Of the now 460 children taken from the ranch how many were boys? Was the ratio of boys to girls what it should be? Some of the women who excaped seemed to hint that boy babies 'died' more often than they should have and that one of the reasons that Jeffs wanted to be in Texas was no birth or death certificates are required. Please find out. Bonny

    April 25, 2008 at 12:41 pm |
  7. Gwen

    Black Female Mormon, no one can show you the 12 and 13 year old pregnant girls because it would be against privacy laws. These girls are minors and for the state to release their pictures would be wrong.

    And statusquo I agree this is disgusting. To convince girls that their way to salvation is to start having kids as an adolescent thereby breaking laws is just insane. I'm glad the state was able to act.

    April 25, 2008 at 12:11 pm |
  8. Millie

    I find it extremely disturbing that these people's civil rights have been excessively violated on such flimsy grounds; However, I lived in Texas for several years and it doesn't surprise me because Texan's seem to be a law unto themselves! I feel horribly sorry for these mothers and children and don't see where it can possibly be helpful to place all these children in foster homes and expose them to all sorts of things them have been protected from. How many teenage girls get pregnant while attending public schools? How many incest cases would you find in any group of 500 children outside of the polygamist environment? I have worked for years as a mental health nurse with adolescents and I can't believe we are doing what is in the best interests of these children to allow this to go on. At least 25 girls out of every 100 has been sexually abused by the time she is 18 and that is the most conservative estimate; that is in our broadstream American society.

    April 25, 2008 at 9:01 am |
  9. Jessica A. Mattison

    I have watched over my adult life the erosion of peoples constitutional rights in exchange for "Big Brother" watching us for us. Its way over done and seems we have law enforcement in every aspect of our lives as "Free Americans". I am fed up w/ law enforcement, and being baby sat as an adult quite frankly. Tip lines that need no verification, children being used as informants in American households against their own family members school teachers are now an extension of CPS and law enforcement.....America ? I recall where history showed another country that did the same things and America helped to defeat them only to become them? We incarcerate more than any other country....we do live in a Police State(s)....and I am glad that old age will take me because this American is fed up with the loss of a life style....living like a free American no more.

    The raid was wrong, based upon unverified information. Arrest the criminals as they are discovered according to our Constitution, yes I would agree. But arbitrary information to raid American homes and take children in masses ? NO ! I can not and will not support a lie and Big Brother is one Big Liar.

    Give the children back, that of which should not have been taken in the first place. This is Salem Mass all over again, imo, only the witches "might be criminals".....

    April 25, 2008 at 7:02 am |
  10. smz

    Phony phone call or not, the fact that evidence of a possible crime was discovered during the raid is what really matters. If police are called out to a burglary and it's not a burglary but instead a fire, do they just turn around and go back? It has been reported that they found underage girls who were pregnant. They found what appears to be marriage documents inside the temple showing underage girls married older men. The leader of their religion is convicted of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14 year old girl. I don't understand how so many of you still have the opinion that these people should just be left alone. I'm glad Texas raided the compound. I'm glad that the children are separated from their parents. I agree the experience for the children is tragic, but I would rather see my fellow American be separated from their mother than see her married off to an older man at age 14 and begin having babies, perpetuating that cycle of abuse.
    I hope that Texas is able to prosecute the men and women responsible for bigamy, for marrying young girls, for turning over their underage daughters for marriage, and raising sons who are indoctrinated into believing that it's okay for them to marry and have sex with underage girls.These people are using their religion and isolation as a way to control and exploit each new life they bring into the world. I don't want a government that just stands by and lets this happen. I want a government that puts a stop to it! God Bless Texas!
    To make sure the children in my state are safe, I'm writing my Governor, State Senators, and State Assembly insisting that they pass anti-cult laws; laws requiring birth certificates, ssn's, and legal guardians for each child born, and laws that make sure home-schooled programs are regulated and monitored.

    April 25, 2008 at 3:02 am |
  11. June W

    Who cares if the actual call was a hoax, at leat it gave the authorities a reason to check it out. Genalow Wilso, remember hin,j was given ten years in prison for having consensual sex with a girl one year younger than he, what makes these men exempt from prosecution?

    April 25, 2008 at 2:15 am |
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