April 8, 2008 / 12:40 AM / 12 years ago

Over 400 children taken from Texas polygamist ranch

DALLAS (Reuters) - Authorities have now removed 401 children from a remote ranch in west Texas belonging to a breakaway Mormon sect linked to jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, local media reported on Monday.

Warren Jeffs looks toward the jury in his trial in Utah, September 25, 2007. Texas officials removed more people on Sunday from a ranch belonging to a breakaway Mormon sect linked to jailed polygamist leader Jeffs but have yet to find a young woman whose complaints sparked the raids. REUTERS/Douglas C. Pizac/Pool

The San Angelo Standard Times reported the total number of children taken away from the ranch and quoted a Texas Child Protective Services official as saying they were removed as police and welfare officials investigate a case of possible abuse.

Scores of women have also reportedly been removed from or left the compound owned by the secretive sect.

Texas child protection authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Lisa Block, a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Safety, told Reuters one person had been arrested at the compound for “interfering with the duties of a public servant” but no one has yet been arrested on charges related to the abuse probe.

“An unknown number of men remain on the compound and are not free to leave,” she said.

Law enforcement officials initially swooped on the compound late last week in a remote, semi-arid region of west Texas about 120 miles northwest of San Antonio in response to a complaint of abuse by a young woman there.

They have yet to identify the woman.

It is unclear how many people have been living at the compound or precisely who is in charge.

The investigation is the latest brush the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has had with the law.

In November, the sect’s spiritual leader and prophet, Warren Jeffs, was sentenced in a Utah court to 10 years to life in prison as an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old first cousin.

He is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges for arranged marriages there.

Polygamy is outlawed everywhere in the United States but the male followers of such sects typically marry one woman officially and take the others as “spiritual wives.”

This makes the women single in the eyes of the state which can entitle them and their children to various welfare benefits.

The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon faith is officially known, renounced polygamy more than a century ago and tries to distance itself from breakaway factions that still practice it.

Reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, editing by Chris Wilson

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