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Fire chief's home & 4 fire stations among places raided in Utah – Arizona border towns. Fraud investigation involving misuse of public funds underway in 'twin polygamous communities'.

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From the AP:

Government agencies in twin polygamous communities along the Utah-Arizona border were served Tuesday with search warrants seeking evidence on suspected misuse of public funds, authorities said.

AZ Colorado City raid

Photo by Mark Havnes, Salt Lake Tribune

The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office said warrants were served at fire stations and private residences in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

“There’s an investigation being conducted by the county attorney’s office at this time for a possible misuse of public funds and fraudulent schemes at the fire department and possibly the city government,” Sheriff Tom Sheahan told The Associated Press.

Sheahan said the allegations were specific to City Manager David Darger and Fire Chief Jake Barlow, both in Colorado City. Telephones messages left for the two officials were not immediately returned.

No one was arrested, and Sheahan said officers were expected to wrap up the searches later in the day.

Investigators were looking for documents and computers files, including financial records at both the offices and homes of Barlow and Darger, Sheahan said.

The twin communities are home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an embattled religious sect that follows Warren Jeffs, a church leader serving prison time after being convicted of rape as an accomplice in the marriage of a 14-year-old follower to her 19-year-old cousin.

Management of the twin towns and the FLDS have been under increasing scrutiny since 2005, following allegations of an increase in underage marriages and misuse of a church property trust.

Five warrants were served in Colorado City — three at fire stations and one each at the homes of Darger and Barlow. The lone Utah warrant was served on the Hildale fire station.

Sheahan said officers had to forcibly enter one home after residents refused requests from police to open the doors.

Utah Hildale fire station

A Washington County Sheriff's Office vehicle ata Hildale, Utah fire station today. Photo by Jud Burkett, The Spectrum

Salt Lake City attorney Rod Parker, who represents the FLDS, said he had not yet seen the warrants and was unclear about the scope of information being sought.

The FLDS founded the twin towns in the mid-20th century, and its members make up the majority of residents, operate most businesses and work in all levels of city government and services.

The FLDS practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to the early theology of the mainstream Mormon church. Mormons denounced the practice in the 1890s.

The faith is engaged in a protracted legal battle with the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona for control of the $110 million church trust.

Jeffs, 53, resigned as president of the FLDS church in 2007 but is believed to remains the faith’s ecclesiastical leader.

He is currently in Mohave County Jail awaiting two criminal trials related to the underage marriage of sect girls. He is already serving two consecutive sentences of five years to life on the Utah conviction of rape as an accomplice.

In 2008, Texas authorities raided an FLDS ranch in Eldorado. More than 430 children were temporarily in state custody after the raid, which also resulted in the filing of criminal charges adjacent a dozen sect men, including Jeffs.

More on the fire department in excerpts from an article by Brooke Adams & Mark Havnes, Salt Lake Tribune:

It was unclear how the fire department would respond to emergencies while the operation was underway, said Barlow, reached by telephone.

“They will not let the volunteers into the stations or the offices where they are taking information,” said Barlow, reached by telephone. “This is over the top for anything they have the right to do. They are interfering with the public safety of thousands of people. I’m trusting that the staff and battalion chief have it under control.”

However, investigators had fire personnel move their equipment outside the buildings so they could respond to any calls that may come in.

AZ Colorado City mapBarlow said that over the past two years the department has complied with numerous subpoenas for information by Arizona authorities based on an unspecified allegation.

The warrants apparently authorized removal of computers and records and, while the investigation was launched by Arizona officials, were signed by judges in both states, said Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney. Parker does not represent the fire department but has represented other FLDS members in court matters.

The Colorado City Fire Department serves the Utah side of the community through an interlocal agreement. In addition to the main station, there are three substations — two in Colorado City and a third in Hildale. The fire department has about six full-time staff and 100 trained volunteer emergency medical technicians, firefighters and paramedics.

Onlookers, including some of the department’s volunteer firefighters, gathered outside the main station this morning, photographing and videotaping the operation. Many other residents were driving by the station.

“We’ve always been good for the county and the state and now they want us to go away,” said Brian Meldrum, a volunteer firefighter.

Glen Jeffs, also a volunteer firefighter, said authorities were “on a fishing trip looking for something.”

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