April 7, 2008 / 12:32 AM / 11 years ago

Texas officials remove 219 from polygamist ranch

DALLAS (Reuters) - Texas officials removed more people on Sunday from a ranch belonging to a breakaway Mormon sect linked to jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs but have yet to find a young woman whose complaints sparked the raids.

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

“We have now removed 219 people,” said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He said that the breakdown was 159 boys and girls and 60 adults.

He also said caseworkers were still on the compound conducting their investigations.

“No arrests have been made and we are still trying to find this young woman,” Allison Palmer, a local prosecutor from a nearby county handling the case, told Reuters by telephone.

“The young lady made more than one call seeking assistance. She is a young, underage mother with an older husband,” she said.

Authorities said that she may be among the people who have already been taken from the compound.

Local media reported that more people had been removed on Sunday from the ranch in a semi-arid area 120 miles northwest of San Antonio.

Texas authorities descended on the ranch this week in response to allegations that a middle-aged man there had married and fathered a child with an underage girl.

An official at the sheriff’s department in the nearby town of Eldorado told Reuters that police were working at the compound around the clock in shifts. There have been no reports of violence or resistance from residents.

It is unclear how many people are living at the compound or precisely who is in charge there. The current investigation is the latest brush that the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has had with the law.

In November, the sect’s controversial spiritual leader and self-proclaimed prophet 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.

Additional reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Eric Walsh

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