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The estranged wife of the man running the day-to-day operations of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints plans to testify against the church and two polygamous towns on the Utah-Arizona line.
Charlene Jeffs will testify about "unconstitutional conduct extending back several years," according to a filing in the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
A motion to add Charlene Jeffs, 50, as a witness in the upcoming civil trial says she will discuss how the marshals in the towns take direction from FLDS leaders and help keep children away from their parents.
Charlene Jeffs will use her own child-custody case as an example. The motion says Lyle Jeffs refused to attend an April custody hearing involving two of his children and a uniform-clad marshal named Curtis Cooke arrived at the hearing and told Charlene Jeffs he was "attending for, and at the direction of, the FLDS Church."
"At this hearing, Officer Cooke further confirmed to Mrs. Jeffs that he knew/believed that church leaders would have engaged in their practice of moving the children into hiding if Mrs. Jeffs had elected to pursue custody informally outside of the court system," the Justice Department motion states.
Charlene and Lyle Jeffs eventually agreed to let the wife be the primary caretaker of the two teenagers, with Lyle Jeffs having visitation rights and paying expenses for the children.
The motion goes on to say that Charlene Jeffs will testify about information that already has been offered from other witnesses, including that church leaders choose who will become a marshal, marshals warn the leaders of outside law enforcement activity and have looked up license plates for the church. But the motion says Charlene Jeffs will offer a few new tidbits:
• Marshals kept people who don't follow the Jeffs family away from funerals in the towns.
• She will specify various mayors and Town Council members who have held high FLDS positions and briefed Lyle Jeffs on town business.
• She will discuss businesses that give money to the church.
• She will discuss how the church kept her in hiding and was "constantly moving her from trailers and different homes."
The government's motion asks to add two other witnesses: Sabrina Broadbent Tetzner, who left the sect and was seen on a video earlier this year trying to retrieve her children from a crowd of FLDS faithful in Colorado City, and Mohave County Sheriff's Deputy Taylor Nelson.
The motion says both will testify about the lack of cooperation and service the marshals provided during Tetzner's child-custody dispute. A judge will need to rule on whether to add them and Charlene Jeffs as witnesses.
The Justice Department lawsuit accuses Colorado City and Hildale, collectively known as Short Creek, of discriminating against non-FLDS residents. Lawyers for the towns and marshals have countered that any discrimination occurred years ago, did not cause significant harm and there is already a judge's order from a related lawsuit that bars discrimination and monitors the towns.
The Justice Department witnesses already include several former FLDS members, many of whom left the church a decade ago or longer, and at least one former Short Creek marshal, Helaman Barlow.
Charlene Jeffs would represent the closest relative of the FLDS hierarchy to testify, though court filings in the Utah custody and divorce case also describe that she was separated from Lyle Jeffs for extended periods through the years.
Charlene and Lyle Jeffs have been married for 31 years. She filed for divorce in April. A court docket indicates that case is pending.
In other motions filed in the civil rights lawsuit in Phoenix, attorneys for both sides are asking for a January trial and are waiting for the judge to set the date. Attorneys are asking for 22 days of trial.
Warren Jeffs, 59, is serving a life prison in Texas after he was convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting two girls ages 12 and 15 whom he had "married." Jeffs' convictions and those of nine other men on charges ranging from bigamy to sexual abuse stemmed from a 2009 raid on an FLDS compound in Texas