Official: More Cases Likely Against Texas Polygamist Sect

Texas state police are investigating roughly 20 alleged abuse cases and 50 alleged bigamy cases involving members of a polygamist sect, a Department of Public Safety spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange cautioned that it remains unclear how many cases will ultimately be pursued. The Texas Rangers, the investigative branch of DPS, are working with state troopers and prosecutors and are still sorting through the 400 boxes of documents seized from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in an April raid, she said.

The number of ongoing investigations stemming from the west Texas raid was first reported Tuesday by the Deseret News. The Salt Lake City newspaper cited e-mails released through a public records request.

"I would anticipate that a number of criminal cases would come out of this criminal investigation," Mange said.

She and Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, declined to discuss how many people might ultimately be charged. Strickland's office is handling the prosecution of sect members.

Willie Jessop, an FLDS member, said Tuesday he had no immediate comment on the number of criminal investigations.

All of the more than 400 children found at the Eldorado ranch during the raid were placed in foster care by the state, though a court later reversed that decision. Child-welfare officials continue to investigate and have asked that eight of the children be returned to foster care.

In July, a Schleicher County grand jury indicted the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, and four of his followers on charges of sexual assault of a child.

One follower faces an additional charge of bigamy. The sect's doctor was charged with three misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse.

Jeffs, convicted last year in Utah as an accomplice to rape in the marriage of an underage FLDS member, is jailed in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges there.

The other indicted FLDS members — Raymond Merrill Jessop, 36; Allan Eugene Keate, 56; Michael George Emack, 57; Merrill Leroy Jessop, 33; and Dr. Lloyd Hammon Barlow, 38 — made bond after turning themselves in to authorities in late July.

The FLDS have historically been based around the Arizona-Utah line, and members bought the YFZ Ranch about five years ago.

Authorities raided the ranch after calls to a domestic abuse hotline from someone claiming to be underage abused mother, though those calls are now being investigated as a hoax.

The grand jury that has been meeting in Schleicher County to consider the FLDS cases is scheduled to meet again Aug. 21.

Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult.

The state's bigamy statute applies to legal marriages and to couples who purport to marry, a lower standard adopted in part to target so-called "spiritual marriages" like those practiced by FLDS members.

The FLDS is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially renounced polygamy more than a century ago and has aggressively sought to distance itself from the FLDS since the headline-generating raid.