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Utah AG's staff meeting with sect member

Utah AG's staff meeting with sect member



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Team coverageA high-ranking member of a polygamist sect met with the Utah Attorney General's Office to discuss the recent raid at a Texas ranch.

Willie Jessop met with Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's chief deputy and other staff members Thursday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Friday.

Jessop hopes the meeting will "begin to open doors" with Utah authorities. In April, after allegations of abuse, more than 400 children were removed from an Eldorado, Texas, ranch owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). But the Texas Supreme Court recently ordered them returned to their families.

The FLDS is based in two towns on the Utah-Arizona border. During the meeting, Jessop said he talked about a list of FLDS members described as possible threats to law enforcement. The list was given to Texas authorities by the Washington County sheriff's office.

Jessop wants the state's help in erasing any perception that he and others are dangerous. "We're the kind of people for whom an apology goes a long way," he said.

Shurtleff did not attend the meeting with Jessop. He was in Nevada this week to discuss the FLDS and polygamy issues with authorities from other states.

"There are a lot of bridges to be built," Shurtleff spokesman Paul Murphy said. "We've talked and now we discover whether we can trust what the other person has said."

Murphy said Utah wants the FLDS to stop underage marriages -- "the No. 1 issue we've had."

Jessop served as a church spokesman during the Texas case.

"We still need to hear who he is and how much authority he has to carry out whatever he says," Murphy said.

Child Protective Services says 143 children are back at the ranch, living in 30 households. Another 178 children, from 33 families, are living in the San Antonio area.

Meanwhile, FLDS lawyers are moving forward in their plans to sue Texas over the raid on the ranch. They say the polygamists are upset over the removal of their children and the damage done to their temple during the April raid.

But the lawsuits may not bring in much money. Texas has immunity laws protecting itself against certain types of civil litigation.

E-mail: athomas@ksl.com
E-mail: mrichards@ksl.com

(The Salt Lake Tribune and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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