PHOENIX (AP) – The ex-wife of a leader in a polygamous church teared up in court Wednesday when recalling how she was isolated from her children and feared even authorities would help hide them from her.
Charlene Jeffs, who was married to ex-Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Lyle Jeffs, testified at a trial in Phoenix in which the federal government alleges that two towns in Arizona and Utah served as an enforcement arm of the sect.
She said she was kicked out of a sacred group within the church called the United Order in 2012.
“I was exiled into a trailer,” Charlene Jeffs said. “I was not allowed to see my children, talk to them or associate with them in any way.”
She left the community altogether in October 2014 and pursued custody of three children.
Charlene Jeffs says Curtis Cook, a member of the Colorado City Marshals Office, approached her at an April 2015 custody hearing and told her “the way I was going about getting my children was illegal.” According to her, Cook said she should have notified marshals that she wanted custody.
“I said: ‘We both know what would’ve happened.’ They would’ve disappeared, and I never would have seen them again,” said Charlene Jeffs, who says Cook nodded in agreement.
Colorado City attorney Jeff Matura disputed Jeffs’ testimony, getting her to confirm two instances in which Cook and another deputy helped her.
They included a welfare check and the day Jeffs was to receive her children after a judge ruled she was entitled to custody. Cook even escorted Jeffs and her children to the county line to make sure they left without interference, Matura said.
“He acted as you hoped he would act as a police officer,” Matura said.
Lyle Jeffs is a brother of church leader Warren Jeffs, who was on the run from charges of arranging marriages between girls and older men before being captured during a 2006 traffic stop outside Las Vegas in an SUV with $50,000, cellphones, a police scanner and wigs. He is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting one of the 24 child brides.
Colorado City and Hildale, Utah are accused of discriminating against nonbelievers by denying them housing, water services and police protection. The communities deny the allegations and say religion isn’t motivating their decisions.
Federal investigators say Colorado City officers claimed to have had no information on Warren Jeffs’ whereabouts while he was on the run, though it was later discovered that some of them had written letters to the church leader during that time.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.