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Montana branch is under fire from a former member

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Framed by the Bitterroot Mountains, the community of Pines-dale, Mont., is one of the Big Sky state's most beautiful places.

But if a complaint filed with Montana state officials is to be believed, ugly things are going on in the Montana polygamist community of 1,000 led by Utahn Owen Allred.Montana officials confirmed Tuesday they are investigating a seven-page complaint filed by Ronald Bierer, who used to follow Allred as a member of the Apostolic United Brethren, which has headquarters in Bluff-dale, Utah.

Allred said Wednesday that Bierer and the AUB had a parting of ways and that a property dispute that is at the root of Bierer's complaint is being resolved within the next day or two.

"It's all going to be settled to the satisfaction of everybody," Allred said.

Daniel Darger, an attorney with Kelley & Kelley of Salt Lake City, which represents the AUB, said, "Owen and I have talked many times about his frustration over what he considers to be a pack of lies."

The complaint, addressed to Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, Attorney General Joseph Mazurek and "the good people of Montana," alleges an array of criminal action ranging from securities and exchange fraud to animal mutilation.

A spokeswoman for Montana Chief Deputy Attorney General Elizabeth Baker said the department had received the complaint "and we are looking into it now."

Perry Johnson, undersheriff in Ravalli County, where Pinesdale is located, said the department is drafting a letter asking the governor and state officials to investigate Bierer's allegations.

By Montana law, most crimes and complaints are handled by local law enforcers, not the state. But Ravalli County needs help with this, Johnson said.

"Trying to get into a community like this is extremely difficult."

There is an intriguing tie between Bluffdale, located in the Salt Lake Valley's southwest corner, and Pinesdale, an out-of-the-way community about 250 miles from Helena, the state capital.

Pinesdale is a polygamist community whose residents also follow Owen Allred and the Apostolic United Brethren, estimated to have 5,000 members in the West.

Allred has been in the news this week after he allowed an unprecedented visit Sunday to his Bluffdale compound by crime and domestic abuse experts from the Utah Attorney General's Office.

What is noteworthy about the complaint filed in Montana is the apparent contrast it paints between Allred's groups in Montana and his community in Utah.

"I think it's a much different situation in Pinesdale," said Mike King, an investigator with the Utah Attorney General's Office who has studied polygamy groups in the West for more than 10 years and led part of Sunday's training.

Allred has waged a publicity campaign recently, holding press conferences and distinguishing his group from others.

Experts say each AUB community has its own flavor, and Montana state officials say privately that Pinesdale has an anti-government tenor and is a place to be avoided. One state employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, "You don't want to go there."

Allred said this week he will talk to his colleagues in Pinesdale about holding a similar training there. A group of leaders is coming to Salt Lake this weekend, he said. "I think they would welcome it."

He acknowledged there may be issues that need to be addressed in Pinesdale. "Everywhere you go, there are going to be problems."

Although Johnson said crimes in Pinesdale are no different from crimes anywhere else, Bierer paints a picture of a rogue community under the direction of "lawless" leaders.

"It isn't a rogue community," said Johnson. "I really wouldn't characterize it that way. The kids are mainstreamed into public schools. People are working just like they are anywhere."

But the group is a secret society, and it's difficult to investigate allegations "if you can't get in the door," he said. "If you don't have a victim, you don't use limited resources to go looking."

Still the Ravalli Sheriff's Department is concerned about allegations in the complaint.

"This open letter calls for a Montana Governor's full-scale investigation of a Polygamous Cult Leader's lawlessness, which includes fraudulently stealing homes, businesses, securities and exchange fraud, property tax evasion, welfare fraud, fixed voting and election practices and just a general disregard for all man made or God given law and order," the complaint reads.

Bierer has a long-standing beef with Allred and top-ranking AUB officials in Pinesdale because of a property dispute while he was in the group.

The AUB owns about 1,000 acres in Pinesdale and controls the government and community operations much as a similar polygamy group does in Hildale, Utah.

In a telephone interview from Montana, Bierer said he hopes the papers get signed, that he gets his property back and can get on with his life.

"I want to get out of Montana pretty darn quick," Bierer said Wednesday. "It's not safe for me here."