April 24, 2008 in Nation/World

Call claiming abuse at sect tied to Colorado woman

David Fahrenthold Washington Post
 

SAN ANGELO, Texas – The phone calls that triggered a massive raid on a polygamist compound in west Texas – in which a quavering girl’s voice described being forcibly married at 15 – have been linked to a Colorado woman with a history of making false claims of sexual abuse, according to an affidavit filed in Colorado Springs.

The affidavit says calls that allegedly came from “Sarah Barlow” – a teenage girl at the Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado, Texas – actually came from numbers connected to Rozita Swinton, 33, of Colorado Springs. The affidavit also notes Swinton’s possible involvement in a series of separate but similar reports in which the young caller described being abused by a pastor, an uncle and her father.

Texas authorities said Wednesday they have not determined whether the calls about the Yearning for Zion Ranch were a hoax and that they plan to press on with their investigation of possible sexual abuse there. More than 400 children are now in state custody, as authorities try to sort out what happened at the ranch run by a polygamist group called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

“Until she’s actually been charged” with a crime related to the phone calls, Swinton’s role “is still an open question,” state Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger said.

But the revelations about phone calls to shelters for abused women in Colorado, Washington, Utah, Arizona and Florida cast doubt on the dramatic scenario that led Texas authorities to investigate and ultimately to raid the compound April 3. The raid made the insular sect the subject of one of the most complex child-custody cases in recent U.S. history.

The calls that launched the Texas case started coming in to a family shelter in San Angelo, about 45 miles from Eldorado, on March 29. The caller said that she was 16, and that she was bound in a “spiritual marriage” to an older, abusive man. The girl said she had given birth to one child and was pregnant with another.

The caller paused often, documents say, and talked quietly so no one would know she was calling for help.

On Wednesday, officials at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said that the facts surrounding the first phone call had become irrelevant because the raid turned up independent evidence that underage girls had been impregnated.

“The removal was based on our investigation. It was not based on the initial call,” spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.

The affidavit made public Wednesday, which was provided to the Washington Post by the Associated Press, indicates links to Swinton even though she has no apparent connection to the Eldorado ranch.


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