Enormous Mismanagement of the FLDS Case, Loss of $12 Million to Taxpayers, And an Egregious Affront to Fundamental Principles of Law
By: Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer John T. Floyd and Mr. Billy Sinclair
Since the April 2008 military-styled raid, led by the Texas Rangers and the state’s Child Protective Services, on the Yearning for Zion Ranch owned by Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints (FLDS) in Eldorado, Texas, we have been consistently been critical of the methods used by law enforcement and the CPS efforts to destroy the FLDS church. These official efforts stem from allegations that some male FLDS members used religious practices to engage in “spiritual marriages” with underage teenage girls. CPS reported in August 2008 that it was still investigating 10 cases involving marriages of girls ranging in ages from 12 to 16. As we have previously reported, these investigations have already cost Texas taxpayers at least $12 million.
The Houston Chronicle reported on September 4, 2008 that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the parent agency of Child Protective Services, has mismanaged millions of taxpayers’ dollars. Five years ago the Texas Legislature mandated that the Commission hire private contractors to assume duties of state employees in agencies such as CPS. The Chronicle reported this effort “has been a slow-motion disaster.”
The newspaper reported that the Commission terminated its contract last year with one company, Accenture, “after [an] attempt to privatize eligibility screening for social service programs caused chaos and erroneously denied services to thousands of qualified Texans.”
A 2006 state audit was highly critical of a five-year $85 million deal the Commission made in 2004 with another company, Convergys, to provide human resources and payroll services for the more than 46,000 employees in the state agencies supervised by the Commission. The audit warned that the Commission’s supervision of the Convergys contract was lax and that this had resulted in late or incorrect paychecks being issued to employees and produced inadequate spending on technology and training programs.
The Chronicle also reported that “a return visit by the auditors this year found that payroll and management problems at the state agencies continue. Texas State Auditor John Keel reported that more than $738,192 had been mistakenly paid out to more than 1,200 former state employees after they had been terminated. Only half of those taxpayer dollars have been recovered. In addition, 43 employees were allowed to take paid emergency leave because of criminal charges, with an average length of 70 days. Nine out of 10 agency supervisors had not received required training, while nearly three-fourths of employees sampled had no performance evaluations in their files.”
Under the terms of its contract with the Commission, Convergys is responsible for what the Chronicle called “time and leave collection and tracking, payroll processing, performance evaluations, and administrative training and staff development.” These two state audits clearly show that neither the Commission nor Convergys are meeting the performance requirements of the $85 million contract.
The Chronicle said that “the chairman of the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, called the audit results unacceptable and demanded an immediate response from agency officials. According to Nelson, ‘It is unimaginable that a terminated employee would continue to receive a paycheck or that someone could be placed on ’emergency leave’ for a year while investigations of criminal background checks are taking place.’”
Chairman Nelson pointed out that the “screening and training” of employees are particularly critical in agencies such as CPS where the care of children is entrusted. The Chronicle correctly concluded its article by saying that “for $85 million, Texans deserve better than an automated payroll system that blindly sends checks to ex-employees while promised evaluations and training are not carried out.”
If the state Commission that supervises CPS cannot manage an $85 million contract, how can Texas taxpayers have any confidence in any “investigations” conducted by CPS, especially one that has already exceeded $12 million? It’s an indictment of the state bureaucracy that the legislature had to mandate the Commission to hire outside contractors to perform functions and duties it should have been capable of carrying out itself. And now it has been disclosed that the two companies hired, and supervised, by the Commission cannot fulfill these functions and duties either.
The issue of CPS competence in the FLDS case must now take center stage. The church re-located in 2003 to Eldorado, Texas from the twin cities of Hildate, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. They purchased the 1700 YFZ ranch four miles outside of Eldorado where they built their own community consisting of 35 buildings and a massive white temple for worship. Shortly after the April raid on the compound, Eldorado Mayor John Nikolauk said it had been widely suspected that FLDS members practiced plural marriages with minor girls.
“We suspected it was going on, but without a complaint, you’re not going to get in there,” the mayor was quoted by the Chronicle. “It’s a closed society. Everyone has empathy for the kids, that they’ll get the breaks a normal kid would have.”
Why didn’t CPS act on the local suspicions? Why didn’t CPS follow normal protocols and procedures that would have protected the innocent FLDS families and children caught up in the investigation?
Then a local crisis center received two anonymous telephone calls from a woman who said she was a pregnant 16-year-old girl who had been forced into marriage with an older FLDS male member and that she had been physically and sexually abused in the marriage. It was later determined that the anonymous caller was a 35-year-old deranged African-American woman with a perverse obsession with the FLDS church. Armed only with this scatter-brained anonymous information, CPS and law enforcement conducted the massive raid on the religious compound.
From December 2003 to April 2008, CPS had four years during which it could have determined whether illegal “spiritual marriages” or any other forms of sexual or physical abuse were being inflicted upon FLDS children. But the agency either could not or chose not to act on the widely held suspicions in the local Eldorado community. The agency elected to act only after the two anonymous telephone calls from the reportedly pregnant 16-year-old made a potential case against the FLDS “sensational” – one worthy of national media attention.
We have repeatedly charged that the decision by CPS to orchestrate the April law enforcement raid on the FLDS compound was mismanaged as has been the agency’s ongoing “investigation” designed to separate FLDS children from their parents. The most recent state audit disclosing a pattern of fiscal mismanagement by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the parent supervisor of CPS, lends credence to this charge of mismanagement against CPS in the FLDS.
The Commission has wasted $85 million on the Convergys contract and CPS has wasted another $12 million on the FLDS case. Had the $85 million given to Convergys been sufficiently used to properly train CPS employees, perhaps we wouldn’t have seen the enormous mismanagement of the FLDS case, the loss of $12 million to taxpayers, and an egregious affront to the constitutions and laws of the State of Texas and the United States of America.