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Colorado evidence is sent for screening

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Rozita Swinton

Rozita Swinton

SAN ANGELO, Texas — State and federal prosecutors will be asked to screen evidence gathered against a Colorado woman now dubbed a "person of interest" in the investigation into a series of calls that triggered the massive raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch.

Rozita Swinton, 33, gave a statement to Texas Rangers, who also seized evidence from her Colorado Springs apartment. While authorities would not say specifically what was in Swinton's home, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement issued late Friday that the officers found "several items that indicated a possible connection between Swinton and calls regarding the FLDS compounds in Colorado City, Ariz., and Eldorado, Texas."

Texas DPS officials said the items will be sent to crime labs for analysis.

Anti-polygamy activist Flora Jessop said she recorded hours of phone calls between herself and a 16-year-old girl named "Sarah," who claimed to be pregnant and in an abusive plural marriage to an older man. Jessop told the Deseret News she got the first call on March 30 — a day after a family crisis shelter first received a similar call.

The call to the family crisis center triggered the raid on the YFZ Ranch, where 416 children were taken into state protective custody. The man named in the phone calls, Dale Barlow, was questioned in Utah by Texas Rangers and has yet to be arrested.

Child welfare officials still have not identified the 16-year-old girl named "Sarah," whose calls prompted the raid.

"What we're hearing from DPS is that it is a possibility (that Swinton is 'Sarah'), but we don't have any concrete evidence of that," Shari Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family Services, said Saturday.

Jessop said the details and terminology used by the woman were eerily accurate for a girl in a fundamentalist lifestyle, but her story eventually started to have holes in it, and Jessop went to police.

"That was one of the reasons that even though I started to suspect it was a ruse at the time, made me start to think she was real," Jessop told the Deseret News on Saturday.

Texas DPS said Swinton became a "person of interest" just days after the raid first began. Eventually, authorities tracked her down in Colorado Springs, where she was arrested for making a false report to police in February.

Colorado Springs police said Swinton had claimed to be a "child in distress" in a phone call to authorities. She was convicted of making a false report to police in Castle Rock, Colo., in 2005.

Jessop said she continues to cooperate with Texas Rangers in the investigation (she declined to release tape recordings of her conversations to the Deseret News, saying it was at their request). But she did not believe that Swinton should face any charges if she is found to be "Sarah."

"I think she ought to be helped because she's very disturbed," Jessop said. "I think in a lot of ways she's a hero to 416 children who are being protected from systemic and widespread abuses within the FLDS, but she went about it in a very wrong way."

Attempts to reach Swinton for comment have been unsuccessful.

Regardless of whether "Sarah" is real or not, Texas child welfare authorities said it does not have any bearing upon their case now.

"Our basis is what we found when we got onto the ranch. That is the numerous teenage girls that had been sexually abused and groomed to marry," Pulliam said.

Authorities had a second search warrant signed when they went on the ranch and observed the alleged abuses. The FBI also served a search warrant on the YFZ Ranch in the ending days of the raid but has refused to divulge its role in the case.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com