The Latest: Ex-aide says church helped pick town officials

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2016 6:11 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — The latest on a trial marking one of the federal government's boldest efforts to crack down on polygamous towns on the Arizona-Utah border (all times local):

4 p.m.

A former aide to a polygamous sect leader has testified that church leaders selected which people would serve as police officers and in government leadership posts in two towns in Arizona and Utah that are accused of religious discrimination.

Dowayne Barlow also testified Wednesday in a federal civil rights case against Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, that employees of the communities helped send packages of money and letters to sect leader Warren Jeffs while he was being sought on charges of arranging marriages between girls and older men.

Barlow is a witness for the U.S. Justice Department in its lawsuit against the towns.

He is a former aide to Lyle Jeffs, Warren Jeffs' brother and a bishop for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Barlow testified after lawyers for both sides presented opening statements.

The cities are accused of systematically denying housing, water services and police protection to any non-believers.

12:30 p.m.

Attorneys for two polygamous towns in Arizona and Utah told jurors the U.S. Justice Department filed a discrimination case against the communities because it finds the dominant religion there to be distasteful.

Jeff Matura, an attorney for Colorado City, Arizona, said Wednesday in his opening statement that the government wants to eradicate the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Matura says the towns are the victims of religious discrimination by the federal government.

The cities are accused of systematically denying housing, water services and police protection to any non-believers.

Matura says the U.S. Justice Department falsely assumes religious people can't function properly in government jobs and that every town employee is a member of the sect.

10 a.m.

The federal government has opened a trial involving two polygamous towns in Arizona and Utah by portraying them as a corrupt operation still beholden to imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs.

U.S. Justice Department lawyers alleged in opening statements Wednesday that leaders of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, have repeatedly violated the civil rights of residents by operating as an arm of Jeffs' polygamous religious sect.

They are accused of systematically denying housing, water services and police protection to any non-believers in the towns.

Federal attorney Jessica Clark says Jeffs still controls the cities despite being imprisoned in Texas.

Federal lawyers also say the church's security operation spies on residents and outsiders, and works in conjunction with police, going as far as running license plate numbers of cars when people arrive in the towns.

Lawyers for the town are set to deliver their opening statements later in the day.