Some would call it turning a blind eye. Others would call it sticking their heads in the sand. Still others would say live and let live. Call it what you will, South Dakota government officials in Pierre seem to be washing their hands of what is turning out to be a huge embarrassment to them in Custer County, S.D. We can say the same for our elected officials in Washington, D.C.
District 30 Rep. Tim Goodwin of the Hill City area held the Republican leadership’s toes to the fire last week when he made a gallant attempt to have the legislature take a look at the Custer County FLDS compound as part of a summer study. Regretfully, Speaker of the House Republican Rep. Mark Mickelson of Sioux Falls did not include the compound on the study list. “If he (Goodwin) thinks we need new laws, beautiful. If he wants us to investigate, I’m out,” Mickelson is quoted as saying.
Apparently Mickelson does not understand who it is we are dealing with here. Laws mean nothing to the FLDS hierarchy and its members. They will do anything to “bleed the beast” as they say about taking advantage of federal government programs and policies. Case in point was the arrest two years ago of FLDS compound leader Seth Jeffs in Custer County and six others on food stamp fraud charges on which they were convicted.
All Goodwin was asking is how residents of the compound could be forced to adhere to the same laws as everyone else, like educating their children and recording births and deaths, which they have never done legally. His and our hope is that enforcing these laws may lead to knowledge of more laws being broken by the sect.
Goodwin has been following activities at the compound for at least the last two years as a member of the Custer County Coalition, a group of local people who have banded together in opposition to alleged illegal activity inside the compound, such as child abuse and human trafficking. The group, in concert with local law enforcement, has organized a series of safe houses in case someone escapes from the compound and needs temporary housing.
The compound is an embarrassment because it is a crime syndicate allegedly dealing in child sexual abuse and human trafficking, all of which we are led to believe are abhorrent to our state and U.S. elected officials. It’s time for state officials to start digging into this renegade Mormon sect and begin by enforcing laws that the rest of us must adhere to. It’s time to stop thinking FLDS compound members make up some kind of religious group.
The Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints appeared here in 2005 when they obtained a building permit to construct a hunting retreat on 100 acres of land about 25 miles southwest of Custer on Farmer Road. It is now entirely fenced and is inaccessible to the public with a 30-foot observation tower inside which is visible from the road.
Using the word “alleged” in reference to child sexual abuse and human trafficking is being kind to the FLDS when we all know the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. FLDS prophet and leader Warren Jeffs still calls the shots from his prison cell where he is serving a life term after being convicted of sexually assaulting two underage girls who he took as child brides, one 12 years and the other 15 years old. Jeffs had a history of sexually assaulting young FLDS boys and girls prior to his conviction.
The question we have to ask is how long are we going to allow this illegal polygamist activity to take place in our country and state? The Mormon Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, has outlawed polygamy since 1890. This Custer County FLDS sect is the offshoot of disgruntled Mormon members who left Salt Lake City and moved to the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., in 1913 so they could continue practicing polygamy.
At the very least, we are almost certain that polygamy is being practiced at the compound because those ex-FLDS members who have been there have said so. We also know that there are no known formal or informal educational records being kept, nor are there any recorded births and deaths at the compound since it was built. There are laws that require these things, and it is not being done.
We expect our state law enforcement officials and the governor to step up the pace of their investigation (assuming there is one ongoing) of this lawless sect in Custer County. Local law enforcement cannot do the job alone.
We commend Goodwin for his efforts on our behalf. At least somebody in state government has our back.