|Investigators seize records in Hildale, Colorado City|
BY TIFFANY DE MASTERS|
Investigators from the Mohave County Sheriff's Office spent all day Tuesday collecting paperwork and hard drives from fire stations in Hildale and Colorado City.
They were joined by members of the Mohave County Attorney's Office, forensic computer experts from the Arizona Attorney General's Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, to simultaneously serve six search warrants in the polygamous communities.
Trish Carter, public information specialist for Mohave County Sheriff's Office, said the warrants were issued because investigators were obtaining evidence in an investigation on misuse of public funds as well as fraudulent schemes in connection with the Colorado City government and the fire departments.
"They came in and shut down public safety in order to go on a fishing trip," said volunteer firefighter and paramedic Glen Jeffs as he watched investigators search the Hildale fire station.
The homes of Colorado City Fire Chief Jake Barlow and City Manager David Darger were also searched.
Five of the warrants were issued from Mohave Superior Court. One was issued from Utah's 5th District Court. Washington County Sheriff's Office was also present while the warrants were executed.
Jeffs said investigators took hard drives and office data such as payables, receivables, patient care reports and anything paper that could be a receipt.
"They (law enforcement personnel) are doing what they can to cripple emergency medical response and fire response in our community," Jeffs said.
At about 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jeffs said personnel started loading boxes from the Hildale fire station into a U-Haul.
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith would not comment on the warrants or investigation.
Hildale Mayor David Zitting said the two communities signed an interlocal agreement, combining funds from the Hildale city budget and Colorado City Fire Special Service District to provide protection for the region.
He said he's unsure how much is in the Colorado City budget, but estimates the Hildale Fire Department budget at about $200,000.
"It's passed every year, audited by independent auditors, so I don't know where the budget can be a concern," Zitting said.
Zitting had nothing but praise for the joint fire department.
"From all the fire departments I've seen, I haven't seen a better-operated fire department that does more for the community," he said. "They're just top of the line. They've got just a handful of staff that are full-time on the combined fire department and about 100 volunteers that are very well qualified. The paramedics and EMTs are highly qualified and do a superb job."
The community became the focus of international attention when polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which embraces the practice of multiple marriages, was on the run after being charged with rape as an accomplice for his role in the marriage of a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
Jeffs has since been convicted of the charges in Utah but still faces similar charges in Arizona.
As media from across the globe scrambled to cover the Jeffs trial and the FLDS community, residents became even more withdrawn, some fleeing to a new center in Eldorado, Texas where it encountered further investigations and charges of underage marriages.
"It has a tremendous impact," Zitting said of the presence of approximately 50 law enforcement officers in the twin cities. "What can you do but try to carry on? Of course, it has impact on the public perspective for one thing and there seems to be no end to them (law enforcement) trying to find another way to come after the cities.
"It began with people who lived in the cities and became disenchanted. It escalated after that. We just try to carry on from day to day. We don't know what's coming from one day to the next, but it's not something I fret over or that we make a big issue in our mind."
There has also been impetus from the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona to have the two cities disincorporated.
"It's just one issue after another," he said. "The thing that really amazes me is if they can invent a way to force disincorporation of a public entity in America, something's wrong with that."
Spectrum & Daily News reporters David DeMille and Kevin Jenkins contributed to this story.
Originally published April 7, 2010
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