July 24th, 2008
04:21 PM ET

Is Polygamy organized crime?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/24/art.jessop.polygamy.hearing.jpg caption="Fundamentalist LDS Church spokesman Willie Jessop talks with reporters on Capitol Hill, today, following the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: Crimes Associated with Polygamy."]David Mattingly
AC360° Correspondent

When Senator Harry Reid of Nevada accuses polygamists of forming "a sophisticated, wealthy and vast criminal organization" and calls polygamous communities "a form of organized crime," he speaks from experience that goes beyond his role as Senate Majority Leader.

Years ago, Reid was the head of the Nevada Gaming Commission and worked to root out organized crime from Las Vegas casinos. He says polygamous communities in the U.S. are not the same as the old Vegas mobs but he says they continue to engage in crimes too serious to ignore. He wants Congress to approve a federal polygamy task force and funds to help protect possible witnesses of crimes.

A Senate hearing this morning brought out testimony from state and federal prosecutors calling for more resources to pursue crimes committed across state lines by polygamous groups like the FLDS. No one from the FLDS was asked to testify. Afterward I spoke to FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop who bristled at the accusations for my report on tonight’s AC360°. He said authorities are making blanket accusations without hard evidence. It was the same complaint he raised in Texas where six FLDS men including sect leader Warren Jeffs were indicted this week on charges stemming from the marriages of underage girls.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • David Mattingly • Polygamy • T1
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Jim Humphries

    Wow a federal task force. That part isn't scary or bothersome especially if there is fraud. What concerns me is that they are wanting to single out a religous group. Didn't some government in the 1930's and 1940's do that? What a slippery slope. If there is fraud then investigate but investigate all of it not just singling out one group.

    July 25, 2008 at 9:39 am |
  2. Jean V

    What working father can support 30 to 50 children? It's a bad joke.

    Of course they engage in welfare fraud. They call it "bleeding the beast" and feel perfectly justified taking as much welfare money as they can get to support their perverted lifestyle.


    July 25, 2008 at 1:32 am |
  3. R Farrer

    YES, polygamy is a form of organized crime. "They" tried to use the system to do what is against the law (of the land) and misappropriated state and federal funds; My tax dollars and your tax dollars. If this had been any ethnic minority group, they would have been spotted early on and "run out of town"... no, arrested. Furthermore, the stigma would have been prolonged and if more than four people were seen living in the same house, they would have to prove that polygamy was not going on.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:07 am |
  4. Alex

    Obviously most people who do not ordinarily deal with criminal statutes have no realistic idea of the definition of "Organized Crime." By statute and within the context of the FLDS, Polygamy does fall within the legal meaning of an act or series of acts of "Organized Crime." I find it amazing that Harry Reid, of all people, has comes up with this idea given that he's about as liberal as they come in Congress and he's more of an obstructionist than anything else. But I do have to admit, this is a rather novel approach to ending the foolishness and criminal conduct that some members of the FLDS practice despite the law of the land in any juridiction that criminalizes sexual conduct with minors or juveniles.

    July 25, 2008 at 12:00 am |
  5. Annie Kate

    Polygamy organized crime? That is a leap I think. While polygamy should be gotten rid of I don't think it is organized crime in the sense we have always thought of.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 24, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  6. Jim Ca.-

    Last I checked I t was a crime for me to have more than 1 wife at a time – you can on Religious grounds? Ok lets say My religion teaches
    its Ok & expected to kill criminals – You know as well as I do If I caught a Drug dealer selling on the street & shot him My butt would be arrested & I'd be tried, convicted & in Jail faster than Warren Jeffs could say "Not Guilty" Is it Organized Crime?- 1 man has Children by several women & is not taking care of them & the ' Wives" are on welfare to support their Family in My book it is organized & they are commiting Crime- But NO ONE DOES ANYTHING. Just like GANGS
    They are organized, commit crimes & NOTHING is done except a few token arrests, a slap on the wrist then they are right back out doing the same thing.Why? because the BIGGEST organized Crime ring is the Government – not the Mob.

    July 24, 2008 at 9:15 pm |
  7. Becky, Shreveport, LA

    I'd like the federal govt to use the money i'm paying in taxes that goes into the prison system (not including the portion that goes to pay the guards or other people who work there) for investigating these manipulative, abusive, FLDS criminals. These people, who refuse to blend into American culture and society, are already using our tax dollars, so Harry Reid may as well use it to investigate them and hopefully put some of these perpetrators behind bars. These people refuse to make any attempt to be viable citizens of this country, and therefore do not deserve to be elligible for any kind of welfare.

    July 24, 2008 at 7:59 pm |
  8. Mari, Salt Lake City

    Its about time that someone calls polygamist criminals. But couldn't that money be better spent, impeaching Bush & Cheney??????????????

    July 24, 2008 at 7:57 pm |
  9. Big Jim Cooley

    It's high time someone with experience and determination like Senator Reid started the process of investigating the FLDS in a hardcore manner. It's not just about these guys having multiple spouses and dozens of children. We're talking about grown men who groom their women from birth to be nothing more than uneducated servants to their every whim. Add to that the fact that many of these "women" are nothing more than children when they are "married" to men sometimes 3 times or more their age and you have something that, frankly, when it happens anywhere else in the world is referred to as the sex-slave trade. Kudos to Senator Reid for taking on these tyrants who commit their crimes under the guise of religion and hide behind their armed gates like Vito Corleone.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:34 pm |
  10. Katy

    Harry Reid as well as other high profile political persons (including a now presidential candidate from Arizona) have known about this 'cult' and their practices for decades. They chose to turn a blind eye while this cult 'bled the beast' and performed spiritual marriages of church elders to underage girls in the name of religion.

    I say Thank God for Texas and their courage in cracking the brick wall the FLDS has been living behind. If not for Texas bringing this cult's practices into the open again, in a BIG Texas way, Harry Reid and the others would still be sitting on their laurels. The reason they are taking action now is to avoid the embarrassment that could come from the public learning they have ignored this problem for many, many years.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:30 pm |
  11. Cindi

    A Federal Task Force absolutely needs to be formed to investigate and ensure there is prosecution of ALL responsible members of the sect. I cannot understand how the mothers can turn a blind eye to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of their own children. Absolutely floors me! I would do anything to protect my children from harm.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:20 pm |
  12. Kathleen Weber

    This is the creepiest thing i EVER thought to hear said in my lifetime.
    Is Catholicism Organized Crime because some Catholics are Mafiosos?
    Are all Jews criminals because some Israeli's commit war crimes?
    No one gunning for any office should ride in on the back of such
    injurious, bizzare statements.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:18 pm |
  13. Wisconsin Dude

    The Government is organized crime! What's wrong with multiple wives? The child abuse, yeah, that's a problem, but there is probably more of that going on in ALL households across the country than with just those who practice polygamy. If a guy can marry a guy, why can't two women marry the same guy? The government and society are the terrorists here.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:10 pm |
  14. Jon Allenton

    Polgamy is absolutely NOT "organized crime" as Harry Reid argues. Senator Reid ought to be ashamed of himself. Let me give you 2 reasons I think Senator Reid is harping on this issue just now.

    Disclaimer: I am a Mormon myself, of the mainstream variety that does not practice polygamy.

    Now Harry Reid is also a mainstream Mormon, and mainstream Momons are often eager to dissociate themselves from the polygamist offshoots of Mormonism because it makes them look bad. So I suspect this is part of what is motivating Reid.

    Second, Mitt Romney is a strong possibility as the VP nominee for McCain. Reid know this, and in his died in the wool Democrat heart, he's going to make this an issue now, because he he knows that many people incorrectly assume that Mitt is associated with polygamist Mormons. Now, how's that for a little peak into Senator Reid's real motivations.

    He knows polygmay isn't synonymous with organized crime. That's ludicrous. The vast majority of polygamists throughout the world are peace loving people. But Senator Reid is determined to demonize them for political purposes. And I thought Democrats were supposed to stand up for oppressed minorities? Only when it suits their politics I guess.

    Shame on Harry Reid!

    July 24, 2008 at 6:05 pm |
  15. Jon

    Why is bigamy illegal in America today? Bigamy is illegal in my mind today if it involves fraud. The fraud of a man marrying more than one woman and the two women do not know anything about each other. In a religious bigamy case the women know about the other women and there is no fraud in regards to the religious marriage.
    Most Mormon Fundamentalist polygamists do not contract legal marriages so how can it be called bigamy? Most Mormon Fundamentalist religious marriages only involve consenting adults. I think the right to privacy and the 14th amendment applies in this type of situation.
    Now if there is child abuse, underage forced marriage, or welfare fraud or other crimes then I think something needs to be done. I agree with the investigations.

    July 24, 2008 at 5:46 pm |
  16. Anne Frisch

    Finally! Someone with clout is taking the FLDS seriously. The general public has known for decades that bigamy and child sexual exploitation has been going on, but no one did much about it. It's as though these weren't "serious" crimes. Now we find out about probable welfare fraud and who knows what else – if the general public isn't outraged by general mysogyny and child abuse, perhaps it will respond to misappropriation of government funds.

    July 24, 2008 at 5:24 pm |
  17. SKS

    FINALLY!! Why has it taken so long for the polygamist communities to be investigated? How has our country ignored known abuse of children, abuse committed in so many ways, psychologically, emotionally, physically and sexually? You cannot say the abuse was unknown. Those who were exiled or have escaped have been speaking out for decades! As a young person I thought it would be a short time before this abusive "society" was exposed. It has now been decades, I am 59. If the American people don't stop it, we will have to add it to our "wall of shame" for not protecting the most vulnerable children in our country, as they have no contact with the outside world, and cannot be heard.

    July 24, 2008 at 5:05 pm |
  18. Jan Tessier

    Anything that can be done to protect children is something to promote and cheer about. Good for Harry Reid.

    July 24, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  19. JLS

    I beleive they are robbing the US government through wefare fraud for all of the children that need to be supported. If they do create a task force to curb they type of welfare fraud there would be a lot more money for other government programs. It is time to put a stop to the child abuse and brain washing imposed by these "men".

    July 24, 2008 at 4:36 pm |
  20. KAB

    So happy Sen. Reid wants "to secure federal funds" to investigate polygamy. !!! Why can't he "secure federal funds" for health care needs for the sick people in this country, or federal funds for better schools in rural areas, or federal funds for (put your idea here:________). There are greater needs out there. Hasn't Sen Reid been paying attention? I think NOLA can still use some help. Maybe Texas now, too after Dolly. Don't we still have a 7 year old hole in the ground where the Twin Towers once stood? If there is proven abuse, the the child out of THAT home and arrest the abuser. Don't waste my money otherwise.

    July 24, 2008 at 4:31 pm |