Trial is expected to reveal polygamous towns' inner workings

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Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs Speaks During Deposition

PHOENIX (AP) -- A trial that begins this month in Phoenix is expected to reveal the inner workings of two secluded towns on the Arizona-Utah line that authorities say were acting as agents of a corrupt polygamist regime.

The federal government brought a civil rights lawsuit against Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, that contends local leaders engaged in a pattern of discrimination against residents who are not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke away from Mormonism when the mainstream faith disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.

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The government alleges officials in the towns seized property from nonmembers and prevented them from building homes.

Police officers are accused of assisting sect leader Warren Jeffs while he was a fugitive on charges of arranging marriages between girls and older men.

The government also says police failed to investigate crimes against nonbelievers. For example, officers refused to act on nonbelievers' trespassing complaints against sect members, the lawsuit says.

The communities deny the allegations and say religion isn't a motivating factor in their decisions. They tried unsuccessfully to get a judge to bar evidence of polygamy, underage marriage and church teachings.

Experts believe the trial will provide a rare glimpse into towns that for decades have been shrouded in secrecy and possess a deep-seated loathing of government and outsiders. One expert compared the trial to past proceedings that gave the country a window into the Mafia's shadowy criminal underworld.

"There's going to be a lot of really interesting insights into what life is like there," said Sam Brower, a private investigator who has researched the church for years. "What corruption is like there. What the civil rights violations are there. This should be a really revealing trial."

RELATED GALLERY: See photos of Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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Trial is expected to reveal polygamous towns' inner workings
Women and children from the YFZ Ranch, the compound built by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are moved by bus to San Angelo, Texas, on Sunday, April 6, 2008. Authorities are investigating allegations of child abuse. (Photo by Khampha Bouaphanh/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
Women and children from the YFZ Ranch, the compound built by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are moved by bus to San Angelo, Texas, on Sunday, April 6, 2008. Authorities are investigating allegations of child abuse. (Photo by Khampha Bouaphanh/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
Members of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are assisted by law enforcement officials as they board a San Angelo Independent School District bus which is being used to relocate them from Eldorado, Texas, to San Angelo, Texas, Apr. 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, left, is driven away from the Tom Green County Courthouse by Sheriff's personnel Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas. A West Texas jury has heard audio recordings and diary accounts of polygamist leader Jeffs teaching his 14-year-old "spiritual wife" how to please him sexually. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
FILE - This Aug. 9, 2011, file photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in Huntsville, Texas. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst said Jeffs is in stable condition, Monday, March 17, 2014, at a Galveston hospital. Hurst says Jeffs was admitted March 11, for treatment of a condition that's not life-threatening. (AP Photo/Texas Department of Criminal Justice, File)
CENTENNIAL PARK, ARIZONA, USA - FEBRUARY, 2008: Trampoline jumping is always a hit in Ray Timpson's family. 17-year-old Rebecca looks after her younger siblings. The Timpson family is part of the small polygamist community of Centennial Park which was founded in 1986 south of the communities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. The Centennial Park group split from the FLDS Church led by infamous jailed polygamist Warren Jeffs in 1986 because of doctrinal differences. (Photo by Stephan Gladieu/Getty Images)
UNDATED - UNSPECIFIED: In this handout provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), polygamist Warren Steed Jeffs is pictured on a FBI Ten Most Wanted poster. Jeffs, the fugitive leader of a polygamist Mormon sect, was arrested by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper on August 28 during a traffic stop. Jeffs was wanted in Utah and Arizona on charges linked to allegations of arranging marriages between men and underage girls. (Handout by Federal Bureau of Investigation via Getty Images)
Women and children from the YFZ Ranch, the compound built by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are moved by bus to San Angelo, Texas, on Sunday, April 6, 2008. Authorities are investigating allegations of child abuse. (Photo by Khampha Bouaphanh/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
CENTENNIAL PARK, ARIZONA, USA - FEBRUARY, 2008: Some of Ray Timpson's children playing in the garden of the house they share with their very large family consisting of one father, six mothers and 41 children. The Timpson family is part of the small polygamist community of Centennial Park which was founded in 1986 south of the communities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. The Centennial Park group split from a group led by infamous jailed polygamist Warren Jeffs in the 1980s because of doctrinal differences. (Photo by Stephan Gladieu/Getty Images)
CENTENNIAL PARK, ARIZONA, USA - FEBRUARY, 2008: Trailers in the polygamist town of Colorado City, a community at the border of Utah and Arizona ran by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) led by infamous jailed polygamist Warren Jeffs. (Photo by Stephan Gladieu/Getty Images)
Warren Jeffs (L) watches the jury leave the courtroom to restart their deliberation in his trial 24 September, 2007 in St. George, Utah. Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice for allegedly coercing the marriage and rape of a 14-year-old follower to her 19-year-old cousin in 2001. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Douglas C. Pizac (Photo credit should read POOL/AFP/Getty Images)
CENTENNIAL PARK, ARIZONA, USA - FEBRUARY, 2008: Ariel Hammon, his two wives Helen and Lisa, and nine of their ten children watch cartoons in their house of Centennial Park, a small polygamist community at the border of Utah and Arizona. Founded in 1986 the Centennial Park group was born from a split over doctrine with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) led by infamous jailed polygamist Warren Jeffs and based in the neighboring community of Colorado City. (Photo by Stephan Gladieu/Getty Images)
ST. GEORGE, UT - SEPETEMBER 24: With law enforcement behind him, Warren Jeffs waits for the jury to reconvene for deliberation in his trial September 24, 2007 in St. George, Utah. Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice for allegedly coercing the marriage and rape of a 14-year-old follower to her 19-year-old cousin in 2001. (Photo by Douglas C. Pizac-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. GEORGE, UT - SEPTEMBER 21: Prosecutor Brock Belnap outlines the elements of the alleged offenses during closing arguments in Warren Jeffs' trial September 21, 2007 in St. George, Utah. Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice for allegedly coercing the marriage and rape of a 14-year-old follower to her 19-year-old cousin in 2001. (Photo by Douglas C. Pizac-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. GEORGE, UT - SEPTEMBER 18: Defense witness Charlotte Jessop answers questions during Warren Jeffs' trial September 18, 2007 in St. George, Utah. Jeffs, former head of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with coercing the marriage and rape of a 14-year-old church-follower to her 19-year-old cousin in 2001. (Photo by Douglas C. Pizac-Pool/Getty Images)
Defense witness Margaret Thomas answers questions during Warren Jeffs' trial 18 September 2007 in St. George, Utah. Jeffs, former head of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with coercing the marriage and rape of a 14-year-old church-follower to her 19-year-old cousin in 2001. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Jud Burkett (Photo credit should read Jud Burkett/AFP/Getty Images)
ST. GEORGE, UT - SEPTEMBER 18: Defense witness Joanna Keate answers questions during Warren Jeffs' trial September 18, 2007 in St. George, Utah. Jeffs, former head of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with coercing the marriage and rape of a 14-year-old church-follower to her 19-year-old cousin in 2001. (Photo by Douglas C. Pizac-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. GEORGE, UT - SEPTEMBER 6: Several television trucks are parked outside the 5th Judicial District Courthouse for the first court hearing for Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) leader Warren Jeffs September 6, 2006 in St. George, Utah. Jeffs faces sex charges involving an underage girl in an arranged marriage with an older man. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
COLORADO CITY, AZ - SEPTEMBER 6: Women sit on horses September 6, 2006 in Colorado City, Arizona. Warren Jeffs, of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the leader of the polygamist Mormon sect living in Colorado City and Hildale, Utah. Jeffs, who will face sex charges involving an underage girl in an arranged marriage with an older man, will have his first court hearing September 6 in St. George, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
HILDALE, UTAH - MARCH 3: A large unfinished house (R) stands in contrast to the finished homes in the compound of the Prophet (L) of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) Warren Jeffs March 3, 2004 in Hildale, Utah. Most of the homes in Hildale and Colorado City which is run by the FLDS Church are unfinished. The FLDS Church which believes in Polygamy, and is in legal battles with several former male members of the church over property rights and custody custody of their wives and children after they were kicked out of the church. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SAN ANGELO, TX - APRIL 9: (TABLOIDS OUT; UTAH MEDIA-SOME RESTRICTIONS APPLY) (R-L) Richard Wright, Willie Jessop, and an unidentified man leave the Tom Green County Courthouse after attorneys for the FLDS church presented their case April 9, 2008 in San Angelo, Texas. Jessop is the former bodyguard for Warren Jeffs. Some 416 children were removed from the polygamous sect's West Texas ranch by officials last week after allegations of abuse were reported. The children were placed in temporary custody of the state. (Photo by Mike Terry/Deseret Morning News/Getty Images)
COLORADO CITY, ARIZONA - MARCH 3: A large church building of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) stands empty and unused for almost a year March 3, 2004 in Colorado City, Arizona after the Prophet of the church Warren Jeffs said the people weren't worthy enough to attend church. The FLDS Church believes in Polygamy, and is in legal battles with several former male members of the church over property rights and custody custody of their wives and children after they were kicked out of the church. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
In this Dec. 16, 2014 photo, girls stand in a playground in Colorado City, Ariz. The sister cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, once run by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are split between loyalists who still believe he is a victim of religious persecution and defectors who are embracing government efforts to pull the town into modern society. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
In this Dec. 16, 2014 photo, people walk along a street in Hildale, Utah. The sister cities of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., once run by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are split between loyalists who still believe he is a victim of religious persecution and defectors who are embracing government efforts to pull the town into modern society. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
In this Dec. 16, 2014 photo, a girl runs past a street sign in Hildale, Utah. The sister cities of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., once run by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are split between loyalists who still believe he is a victim of religious persecution and defectors who are embracing government efforts to pull the town into modern society. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
This Dec. 16, 2014 photo shows the compound built for polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in Hildale, Utah. Willie Jessop, the former spokesman and bodyguard for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, has converted the compound in to a bed and breakfast. In defiance of some of Jeffs' rules, he now flies the U.S. flag, keeps the gate open and has torn down part of the wall. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
In this Dec. 16, 2014 photo, Willie Jessop, the former spokesman and bodyguard for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, stands on the steps of a compound built for polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in Hildale, Utah. Jessop has converted the compound into a bed and breakfast. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
FILE - Hildale, Utah sits at the base of red rock cliff mountains with its sister city, Colorado City, Ariz. in the foreground in this Thursday, April 20, 2006 file photo. An attorney for local law enforcement in the two polygamous towns, where most residents are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints run by the group’s jailed leader Warren Jeffs, says the U.S. Justice Department plans to sue both communities, claiming religious discrimination. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
This July 12, 2011 photo shows Texas Parks and Wildlife Capt. Marco Alvizo pose for a photo near Lake Amistad, in Del Rio, Texas. Alvizo pulled over a man in 2004 who led him to a secretive religious compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints _ a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy is the key to heaven_ led by Warren Jeffs. A 2008 raid seized 439 children and led to the arrest of Jeffs, and 11 other sect members, facing charges including sexual assault and bigamy. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
FILE - In this April 7, 2008, file photo, adult members of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather as children play with bottles of bubble water on the grounds of their temporary housing at Fort Concho National Historic Landmark in San Angelo, Texas. Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints _ a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy is the key to heaven _ were subject of a SWAT team raid where 439 children were seized from mothers. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
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Jeff Matura, an attorney representing Colorado City, said the lawsuit is less about the towns and more about the religion. He also warned that the case could leave other religions open to similar attacks in court.

"Today, it's FLDS," Matura said. "Tomorrow, it may be my church or your church."

Justice Department lawyers are bracing for the possibility of defiant witnesses from the towns. The agency says in court papers that some sect leaders invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during depositions, and they are expected to do the same at trial.

A jury will hear the case and decide whether the towns carried out a pattern of religious-based discrimination. The Justice Department is seeking a ruling that the towns violated a fair-housing law. It's seeking unspecified changes to prevent future discrimination.

The agency has declined to comment on the trial, which begins Jan. 19.

Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor who has studied the church, said witnesses should reveal valuable information about how Jeffs sends orders from his prison cell.

Sect members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven and that Jeffs is a prophet who speaks for God. Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas, is still believed to rule the sect through letters and phone calls from prison, with enforcement help from one of his brothers.

A judge has said the Justice Department has evidence suggesting officers dropped off packages, letters and other items for Jeffs while he was a fugitive.

But Guiora doesn't expect the trial to influence Jeffs' followers.

"You could bring 5,000 witnesses, but that would never convince the true believer," Guiora said.

Willie Jessop, a former church spokesman and Jeffs bodyguard who left the sect in 2011, predicts Justice Department attorneys will have no trouble proving city government and police leaders take their orders from Jeffs.

Jeffs and other sect leaders control how much money they make, where they eat and sleep, and how they run the city, Jessop said.

"I think it will be quite a graphic case of city government corruption at almost the fullest degree — almost to the level of a complete cartel running our city government," Jessop said. "It's going to be a rodeo."

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