PHOENIX (AP) — The ex-wife of a leader in a polygamous church teared up in court Wednesday when recalling how she was isolated from her children and feared even authorities would help hide them from her.
Charlene Jeffs, who was married to ex-Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Lyle Jeffs, testified at a trial in Phoenix in which the federal government alleges that two towns in Arizona and Utah served as an enforcement arm of the sect.
Jeffs said she was kicked out of a sacred group within the church called the United Order in 2012.
"I was exiled into a trailer," Jeffs said. "I was not allowed to see my children, talk to them or associate with them in any way."
She left the community altogether in October 2014 and pursued custody of three children.
Jeffs says Curtis Cook, a member of the Colorado City Marshals Office, approached her at an April 2015 custody hearing and told her "the way I was going about getting my children was illegal." According to her, Cook said she should have notified marshals that she wanted custody.
"I said: 'We both know what would've happened.' They would've disappeared, and I never would have seen them again," said Jeffs, who says Cook nodded in agreement.
Colorado City attorney Jeff Matura disputed Jeffs' testimony, getting her to confirm two instances where Cook and another deputy helped her.
They included a welfare check and the day Jeffs was to receive her children after a judge ruled she was entitled to custody. Cook even escorted Jeffs and her children to the county line to make sure they left without interference, Matura said.
"He acted as you hoped he would act as a police officer," Matura said.
Lyle Jeffs is a brother of church leader Warren Jeffs, who was on the run from charges of arranging marriages between girls and older men before being captured during a 2006 traffic stop outside Las Vegas in an SUV with $50,000, cellphones, a police scanner and wigs. He is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting one of the 24 underage brides.
The towns are accused of discriminating against nonbelievers by denying them housing, water services and police protection. The communities deny the allegations and say religion isn't a motivating factor in their decisions.