Some Mormon fundamentalists seem comfortable using deception to defraud the government of welfare subsidies. When mothers deny knowledge of the identity of the father of their children, they shift responsibility for the children's maintenance from him to the state.

Joseph Smith taught: “Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance… All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age” (D&C 83:2, 4). Similarly, the apostle Paul set the standard incumbent upon God’s followers:  “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8).  At no time have Church authorities encouraged men to marry wives they could not provide for or support materially.

Much evidence exists to show that during the past few decades, many plural wives of Mormon fundamentalist men have deceived the government in order to obtain welfare assistance and medical coverage. The deception occurs as plural wives fail to identify the father of their children in official records as required by state laws; the mothers supply spurious names or say they do not know.  Through this fraud, fathers are able to shift their responsibilities for the material support of their plural families to state welfare programs.

Being responsible for the temporal needs of the members of the UEP in the 1980s, Bishop Fred Jessop in the Colorado City, Arizona reportedly encouraged FLDS members in the area to take advantage of government assistance in the form of welfare and the WIC (woman-infant-child) programs.  In 2003, thirty-three percent of the town’s residents received food stamps—compared to the state average of 4.7 percent resulting in more than $6 million a year in public funds being funneled into the Community of Colorado City, Arizona. Jon Krakauer, author of a controversial book on contemporary Mormon fundamentalism, wrote: “Fundamentalists call defrauding the government ‘bleeding the beast’ and regard it as a virtuous act.”[1]

Welfare subsidies received by members of the Kingston clan resulted in the prosecution of Ortell Kingston by the state of Utah in 1983 for fraud.  The case was settled with Kingston paying the state $250,000.

Independent polygamist Tom Greene was charged with criminal non-support among other crimes.  The State of Utah asserted that he and his “wives” had received more than $647,000 in state and federal assistance, including $203,000 in food stamps and nearly $300,000 in medical and dental expenses since 1985.  After a drawn out trial process, he was convicted and sentenced to prison.

In 1993, one Utah State Department of Social Services employee estimated that through her office, “300 polygamous families receive from between $500 and $1600 worth of food stamps each month for families with an average of 15 members.”  She further explained: “The attitude of some polygamists is ‘the government is untrustworthy and corrupt, and I’m above it – but give me those food stamps and free medical care.’”[2]

[1] Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. New York: Doubleday, 2003, 13. See also Rena Chynoweth with Dean M. Shapiro, The Blood Covenant (Austin, Tex.: Diamond Books, 1990), 46-47; Melissa Merrill (pseud.), Polygamist’s Wife (Salt Lake City: Olympus Publishing, 1975), 64; Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System 1840-1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2001), 210-11.

[2] Carolyn Campbell, “Plural Lives: Inside Polygamy in the “90s.” Salt Lake City, March/April 1993, 102.