On the EDge: Canada, Texas convict polygamists; is Utah choosing to be silent?

Composite image showing polygamists who are or have been in the courts. From L-R: Lyle Jeffs, Warren Jeffs, James Oler, Winston Blackmore. | Photo derive from file photos and AP photos, St. George News

OPINION — Canada, like Texas, gets it. That’s why Winston Blackmore and James Oler are now facing prison sentences for polygamy convictions.

The two former bishops in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada, received their verdicts Monday following years of dogged investigation by Canadian prosecutors.

Read more: Canadian polygamous leader found guilty of having 25 wives

Canada’s prosecutors were assisted by authorities in Texas who were tenacious in pursuing an investigation into self-proclaimed FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs – Warren Jeffs who has also been convicted and is now serving a life-plus sentence in a Texas prison for child sexual assault as a result.


Over the years Utah has been virtually silent when it comes to prosecuting polygamy and its associated crimes, a policy instituted by former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff that was perpetrated by his successor, John Swallow, and apparently his successor, Sean Reyes.

Winston Blackmore and Oler, former bishops of the FLDS branch in western Canada, were charged after records seized in the 2008 raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion compound in Texas were shared with Canadian investigators.

According to court documents, Winston Blackmore has at least 24 wives and more than 145 children. Fourteen of those wives were 17 or younger when Blackmore married them. Oler has five wives and 32 children. They were each charged and convicted on one count of polygamy. They could be sentenced to as many as five years in prison.

Canadian officials will render a verdict on a separate FLDS-related case when court convenes on Aug. 11 to sentence a former husband and wife – Brandon and Gail Blackmore – convicted of transporting their 13-year-old daughter across the border to the United States so she could be married to Warren Jeffs.

The convictions of Winston Blackmore and Oler were long in the making.

Canadian investigators began probing the FLDS sect back in the 1990s when allegations surfaced about the Mormon fundamentalist group that settled in the tiny community of Bountiful. However, the documents shared by Texas authorities shed light on the so-called spiritual marriages of both men.

Winston Blackmore’s attorney, Blair Suffredine, said he will appeal the decision, arguing that Canada’s polygamy laws infringe on his client’s constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion.

According to a story in The Vancouver Sun, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan refused to hear Suffredine’s constitutional argument during trial because he failed to properly notify the judge, the other lawyers and the federal Justice Department of a challenge under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Winston Blackmore, meanwhile, is not an unfamiliar face in Utah polygamy circles.

A year ago, he was part of a group of Canadian polygamists who traveled to the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, for a Fourth of July celebration that had a conciliatory theme, welcoming those who had been ousted from the community, religion and culture for a variety of reasons.

Winston Blackmore was excommunicated from the church in 2002 after a power struggle with Warren Jeffs after the latter named himself as prophet upon his father Rulon Jeffs’ death. Rulon Jeffs had led the church from 1986 until 2002.

The celebration and reunification was looked upon by longtime FLDS observers as an opportunity to solidify the community and, perhaps, establish new leadership, which had been rocked after the imprisonment of Warren Jeffs and the disappearance of his brother, Lyle Jeffs.

Lyle Jeffs had recently fled after being placed on house arrest while he awaited trial on federal charges. After a year on the run, he was captured while living in a pickup truck in a remote part of South Dakota. He has been transported back to Utah where he awaits trial on federal charges for food stamp fraud.

What makes the efforts for reconciliation more interesting is the interaction between the various polygamous groups in Utah and elsewhere that brings the seedy context of the culture into view. Those who have escaped the polygamous lifestyle have revealed how the various factions of Mormon fundamentalism have, despite their separate leadership, had close ties, whether through business alliances or trading young girls from one community to another to place them in spiritual marriages.

Take the particular case of Brandon and Gail Blackmore. The two brought their daughter to the United States and to Utah-Arizona’s Short Creek community for the explicit reason of placing her into marriage with Warren Jeffs. And yet, though there is enough evidence to convict Brandon and Gail Blackmore in a Canadian court, no charges have been brought against them in Utah.

The question begs: How many other young girls have been placed in sexual slavery in the name of “religion,” and why does Utah repeatedly turn a blind eye on this criminal activity?

Top law enforcement officials in Utah have turned a blind eye to all of this, and it is disappointing.

Shurtleff and Swallow both were adamant that they would not prosecute polygamy offenses. Reyes said he would change that policy.

Could it be that Utah lawmakers have gotten too cozy with the polygamous community?

A 2016 investigative piece in the Salt Lake Tribune revealed that Washakie Renewable Energy, a company tied to a northern Utah polygamous group, has donated approximately $190,000 to state and federal politicians, including $50,000 given to the Reyes campaign.

Once the revelations were made, some pleaded ignorance, with the Reyes campaign stating they would put the money into escrow until receiving further direction from federal investigators.

Of course, there was no explanation why Reyes was invited to speak at a Washakie Christmas party.

The bottom line is this: A politician who hopes to maintain any hope of credibility must avoid even the appearance of corruption or collusion. To carelessly take money, accept speaking invitations or take meetings with questionable groups brings them under suspicion.

Especially when they continue to ignore violations of the law by those groups or individuals who make financial or partnership overtures.

It’s called corruption, something that used to be considered at the very least a violation of the public trust, and at worst, a violation of the law.

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • LocalDad July 25, 2017 at 7:48 am

    Hold the phone, quite literally hold the phone and let someone who is in town ask the obvious question. isn’t Jeffs in Purgatory? Wasn’t Utah actually first to go after the group? Maybe the reason we don’t talk much about it is because we don’t want to face the facts: We screwed the victims too, pun intended. We seized assets that in any other time a place, should have went to the victims of these crimes. Yeah, of course we don’t talk much about that. But Utah set this off. There’s been subsequent charges as recently as this year. Utah isn’t silent simply because a few people don’t listen.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic July 25, 2017 at 8:43 am

      LD, the case Lyle Jeffs is currently involved in, although in the District of Utah, is a federal case not a state prosecution. Here is a St. George News recent report on that, as it pertains to Lyle Jeffs: http://stgnews.com/news/archive/2017/07/10/kss-flds-polygamous-leader-lyle-jeffs-pleads-not-guilty/#.WXdYYK2ZPFw
      I hope that helps and appreciate the question.

      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

    • Chris July 25, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      No, Utah did not “set this off.” What little state action that has taken place was by Arizona and Texas. Utah has always had a schizophrenic attitude toward Short Creek, and that continues to this day.

  • Utahguns July 25, 2017 at 8:07 am

    I haven’t done this often with your previous commentaries, but, today I agree with you wholeheartedly.
    As they say, “If it walks like a duck……………”
    Yes, there is corruption going on.

  • Walter1 July 25, 2017 at 10:13 am

    Typical Utah good old boy government. Changes are coming. Utah will be a different place in twenty years. Out with the old and in with the new!

    • Proud Rebel July 25, 2017 at 11:45 am

      Walter, I really wish I could agree with your prediction. The only problem with that, is nepotism. Each generation passes their old beliefs, practices and habits to the young people who actually would like to see change. By the time these youngsters are old enough to bring about change, they are thoroughly indoctrinated into the system.

      • ladybugavenger July 25, 2017 at 2:34 pm

        That’s because they’ve been beat down. As a child, you’re taught to dream and taught that you can change the world. As an adult, you get called delusional and grandiose with other mental disorders for even thinking you can try to change anything. So people just go with the flow, all beat down, and submissive to corruption.

  • comments July 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Polygamy and polygamy-based child sex abuse is ignored, tolerated, or even actively encouraged by utah’s LDS power structure. For those familiar with the mountain meadows massacre I’ll say this, is it that much of a stretch from mass murder to mass institutionalized cult pedophilia? The prophets Joseph smith and Brigham young had a thing for young girls, and lots and lots of them. It’s been part of the culture from the very beginning. Most LDS are very ignorant of the history of there own religion. Every Sunday they attend, but they don’t teach the actual history, and most members are completely clueless. Changes one’s perspective when they realize what that religion started as–basically a polygamous sex cult. There’s good reason mormon’s were thrown out of all those other states, and it’s not what they told you in church. I know the history; I’ve studied it in depth, and I’m an on-the-books (non-tithing-paying) LDS member; have been since 8 years old. Long enough to learn what it’s all about. With modern LDS it’s mostly about $$$, but there’s still those old ties to the polygamous sex cult part of LDS culture. Like a broken record I’ll say it again: without the LDS church tolerating (and actively encouraging?) polygamy, there would be no polygamy cults in UT.

  • The Dude July 25, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    What about Arizona? Last time I looked at a map, Colorado City, Centennial Park, and Came Beds ( all FLDS dominant towns) were in Arizona.

    • comments July 25, 2017 at 3:54 pm

      Arizona, another state with strong LDS presence. Coincidence? I think not.

  • commonsense July 25, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    Ed, your dislike of Utah and Mormons once again raises its ugly head. You hate polygamy but embrace all other forms of sexual deviance. This advances your liberal narrative.

    Finding fault with Utah government is like loathing the top student in school. There is little wrong with this state as measured by any parameter. You should really try California where your views and your appearance would be considered normal.

    • comments July 26, 2017 at 1:47 am

      commonidiot, why don’t you tell us again all about how you’re a “physician”. If it’s true we’re in trouble. Actual physicians as simple minded and dull witted as you. Hard to imagine. And did you just use the old “if you don’t like it then leave” line? very idiotic, buddy–more simple minded thinking from you, surprise surprise. cheers bud 😉

  • hoaganp July 25, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    As a Texan, I was pleased when Texas officials did the right thing in bringing Warren Jeffs to the justice he deserved. I now salute the Canadian authorities for their efforts in doing the right thing in prosecuting the two polygamists there. I hope to some day applaud the State of Utah for following the leads of Texas and Canadian prosecutors in successfully convicting any polygamist guilty of child abuse. In the mean time, like Mr. Kociela makes reference to, let us follow the money flow from polygamist leaders to certain Utah elected officials and see if we can figure out why successful prosecution in Utah has been lacking.

    • comments July 26, 2017 at 11:13 am

      Why has successful prosecution in Utah has been lacking? The answer is: the mormon LDS church. That’s why. It really is that simple.

  • commonsense July 26, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Why does it bother you so much that adults want to engage in plural marriage? I get the concern about under age marriages but the entire Muslim world practices pediphile polygamy and liberals seem okay with it. The Old Testament Jewish prophets were all polygamists.

    The irony is that liberals embrace a permissive attitude about same sex marriage and tolerance for social differences except in conservative Utah and then there is no tolerance. It’s hard to fault Utah government on anything but liberals seem to manufacture stuff to “kick against the pricks”.

    From a state perspective, putting men in prison for plural marriage simply adds women and children to the welfare rolls and vulnerable to abuse. I say prosecute pediphiles but leave polygamists alone. Arizona government conjures.

    • comments July 26, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      Ok doctor, it sounds as though you’re actually ok with mormon polygamous pedophilia. You realize a lot of aspects of your religion and its history are actually indefensible. I can’t imagine the mental gymnastics you mormons that actually are thoroughly educated about mormonism have to go thru, and still continue to buy into the BS. And what do “liberals” have to do with utah’s mormon polygamous child sex abuse problems? Your attempts at making an argument just show what a loon you are. You really are a clown. Just amazing.

    • comments July 26, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      “From a state perspective, putting men in prison for plural marriage simply adds women and children to the welfare rolls and vulnerable to abuse.”

      Those plyg women and children already live off of welfare and gov’t programs. Without gov’t handouts places like shortcreek wouldn’t exist. Geeze you are dumb.

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