April 8, 2008 / 3:22 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, Texas authorities said 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

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said 401 children have been taken from the compound. He could not confirm local media reports that said all of the children had now been taken away from the ranch.

“Investigations at the compound are still continuing,” he said in a telephone interview. He also said that 133 women had left the premises. Authorities have said an undisclosed number of men remain on the compound and have not been allowed to leave while the probe is in progress.

Local TV footage showed young girls in long, conservative dresses boarding buses.

Lisa Block, a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Safety, said 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.

Law enforcement officials initially swooped on to the compound late last week in a remote, semi-arid region of west Texas 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 — which regards plural marriage as ordained by God — 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 Philip Barbara

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