Senate committee to hold hearing on polygamy

San Antonio, USA - A hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee next week will focus on coordinating a state and federal response to polygamy in the wake of a raid and bungled custody case in Texas.

The committee, which announced the hearing Wednesday, did not release a witness list for the July 24 hearing in Washington, D.C., but at least a couple of public officials plan to testify, including U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Reid has been among the most outspoken officials in calling for federal intervention since the April raid at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado. The Nevada Democrat asked federal prosecutors to investigate polygamist groups like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which runs the ranch, and called for a Senate hearing on enforcement issues.

"This is, first and foremost, about protecting the women and children who are in these abusive situations," said Reid's spokesman Jon Summers.

He said Reid is also concerned about possible financial crimes, like tax evasion or welfare fraud — allegations that have surfaced in cases involving some polygamist families but not the Texas ranch.

FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop said he's outraged that only critics of the sect have been asked to appear before the committee.

"They don't even want to hear our side of the issues. All they want to hear is things that are disgusting, a lie or untrue," said Jessop in an interview with The Associated Press. "If we go in to tell them the truth of the matter, the doors are closed."

Still, he said church representatives would go to Washington for the hearing.

"We've become an easy target because we've been polite," said Jessop, who contends the sect has been victimized by critics who have made unfair accusations and sold best-selling books based on them.

Members of the FLDS, a breakaway sect from the Mormon church, lived for generations along the Arizona-Utah border mostly ignored by law enforcement until recently, when allegations of underage girls forced into marriages surfaced.

Sect leader Warren Jeffs awaits trial in Arizona on charges of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor for allegedly arranging marriages between underage girls and adult men. He was convicted in Utah last year of two counts of felony rape as an accomplice in the marriage of a girl there.

The Texas raid brought further scrutiny when child protective workers removed more than 400 children from the YFZ Ranch in western Texas and placed them in foster care, alleging they were being abused because of underage marriages in the sect.

Appellate courts found the removals unjustified in all but a handful of cases, and the children were returned to their parents in early June.

No criminal charges have been filed, though a grand jury in Eldorado is hearing testimony. Jurors meet Tuesday for a second time to consider the FLDS case.