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Decades-old Bountiful case alleges church connection to abuse allegations

SHARE Decades-old Bountiful case alleges church connection to abuse allegations
The owner a Salt Lake club was charged Wednesday with sexually abusing former female workers.

Allegations rejected 30 years ago by multiple law enforcement investigations resurfaced Wednesday in a federal lawsuit.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Allegations rejected 30 years ago following multiple law enforcement investigations resurfaced Wednesday in a federal lawsuit filed against a daughter and son-in-law of the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The couple was identified only as John and Jane Doe in the suit, but an attorney for the defendants identified them as Brenda and Richard Miles, the daughter and son-in-law of President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called the Mormon church.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Utah by six unnamed plaintiffs, all the children or stepchildren of a man who died by suicide in 1995. They revived allegations that rocked a Bountiful neighborhood in 1986 when they said they were abused as part of a sex ring of adults and babysitters.

Three of the plaintiffs allege that the plaintiffs' father and the Mileses were part of a group who sexually assaulted them as children when their ages ranged from newborn to 8 years old. The alleged assaults took place at "touching parties" at homes in the Mueller Park area of Bountiful, according to the complaint.

Within hours on Wednesday, the Mileses filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion said the plaintiffs' claims are "false and horrific" and are barred by the statute of limitations.

In a statement, the Mileses described what they called "long-ago debunked accusations" as "patently false and deeply, utterly offensive."

"Child abuse is evil, but so is a false accusation of child abuse," said the Mileses' attorney, Jim Jardine, of the law firm Ray Quinney & Nebeker.

Idaho attorney Craig Vernon filed the complaint three days before the church's semi-annual general conference, alleging a coverup by the church, which it denied. Vernon, of the law firm James, Vernon and Weeks in Coeur d'Alene, also represents McKenna Denson in another high-profile lawsuit against the church.

Vernon did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday. Under Utah federal court rules, he has 28 days to respond to the Mileses' motion to dismiss.

The allegations

The lawsuit included nine exhibits. Six are declarations made by the children or stepchildren. The other three are from their mothers and a psychiatrist who treated the children in 1986.

Three children allege in signed exhibits that they remember being sexually assaulted in the touching parties by their father, their paternal grandmother, the Mileses, a teenage babysitter and numerous others.

Two stepchildren say they were raped by their stepfather.

One child and one stepchild say they don't remember being assaulted but were told they were by their siblings, parents and therapists.

A seventh child provided an exhibit, but she is not listed as a plaintiff in the suit.

The suit graphically details repeated sexual assaults and rape of the plaintiffs when they were young children.

"We have never abused these children or anyone else," the Mileses said in their statement. "To do so would be contrary to our beliefs, our principles, our character and the way we have always lived our lives. Police investigated these allegations against us more than 30 years ago and found no evidence to support them. To protect ourselves from the specter of false allegations, we voluntarily took a polygraph test. The results of the tests, which we took in 1986, support the reality that we did not sexually abuse these children."

The lawsuit also claims the Mileses "utilized their status within the church, both as leaders in their own right and as the daughter and son-in-law of an apostle of the church, to cover up the crimes they committed against Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2 and John Doe 1."

The lawsuit infers that President Nelson, who became an apostle in 1984, used his influence to protect the father and the Mileses from both the criminal investigation and church discipline.

The suit explicitly accuses the Mileses of "lying to the police and influencing the criminal investigation; influencing leaders of the church to ignore church policy and not convene a church disciplinary (council) against themselves and (the plaintiffs' father); and further actions which encouraged and enabled defendants and (plaintiffs' father) to escape criminal prosecution and not be excommunicated from the church for the heinous sexual crimes they committed against these children."

The plaintiffs claim that this enabled their father to remarry and allegedly abuse the children in that second marriage, who are listed as the second set of three plaintiffs — Jane Doe 3 and 4 and John Doe 2.

The church strongly denied the claims that President Nelson or any church official used any influence on the criminal investigation or church discipline.

"These allegations of interference or coverup are baseless and offensive," the church said in a statement. "Law enforcement investigated this matter in the 1980s and took no action against the church or its leaders. We will continue to act responsibly and appropriately in addressing these matters."

The stake president at the time, Craig Smith, said neither the Mileses or any church leader influenced his decision about church discipline for the plaintiffs' father or anyone else.

"No one from the church told me what to do about whether members of the stake should or should not be disciplined," Smith said in a statement. "Decisions about members of my stake were left up to me as the stake president."

Church policy instructs local leaders not to convene a disciplinary council until a legal investigation is concluded.

The Mileses' attorney, Jim Jardine, said the allegations arose from the work of a "controversial" therapist, Barbara Snow, who was investigated for "planting" false memories in patients, which she denied.

The investigations

Investigators at the city and county level at the time found no evidence of a Bountiful sex abuse ring allegedly involving the Mileses. A state investigation also found no evidence to corroborate more than 220 claims of ritual sex abuse in Utah that mirrored a national trend of accusations later attributed to the counseling techniques of recovered-memory therapy, a practice now widely rejected by research psychologists because of the possibility of planted memories.

David Jordan, an attorney with Stoel Rives who is assisting the church in this matter, provided declarations under oath from the lead investigators and prosecutors who examined claims of two alleged sex rings in the Mueller Park neighborhood in Bountiful. They say church officials did not try to shape the investigation.

"No one from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attempted to influence or interfere with our investigation in any way," said Michael George in one of the declarations. George was the investigator for the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office assigned to the case at the time. The statement was dated Sept. 19, 2018, a copy of which was reviewed by the Deseret News.

George also addressed the "touching parties."

"We did not find evidence of a child sex abuse ring," he said.

The Deseret News has reviewed all four declarations.

Then-Bountiful Police Det. Diana Stevens said no church officials attempted to interfere with the criminal investigations.

Brian Namba, the Davis County deputy attorney, said no church representative "attempted to limit or interfere with the county's investigation or prosecutorial decisions."

George, the Salt Lake County investigator, and Leslie Lewis, a deputy in the Salt Lake County Attorney’s office at the time and a future Third District Court judge, also said no church officials attempted to influence their work.

George said they found no evidence of a child sex abuse ring in the investigation involving the Mileses. The declarations made by him and Lewis indicated that when they sifted the evidence in their investigation of the plaintiffs' father's conduct with his children, it left questions but was insufficient for prosecution.

"The evidence concerning (the plaintiffs' father) was conflicting and inconclusive and, ultimately, the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office determined not to prosecute him," George wrote.

Lewis added, "Our investigation did not uncover sufficient evidence to warrant charges against (the plaintiffs' father)." Lewis signed her written declaration on Friday.

Mileses' response

"Allegations from the 1980s that we sexually abused neighborhood children by hosting 'touching' parties and engaging in other bizarre forms of ritualistic abuse are patently false and deeply, utterly offensive," the Mileses said in their statement on Wednesday. "Now that we have been subjected to a lawsuit attempting to dredge up these long-ago debunked accusations, it's important for us to speak out.

"While it pains us to engage in litigation with former neighbors, especially individuals who have so clearly faced significant challenges in life, with the lawsuit they have filed, we are left with no choice but to defend ourselves in the court of law and in the court of public opinion. The allegations against us are false. While we feel deep sadness and concern for these individuals, any abuse they suffered did not involve us."

Jardine, their attorney, added: "We have full confidence that both the legal and journalistic processes will come to the same truth — that the Miles are completely innocent of these allegations. The Miles will vigorously defend against these false claims and will be completely vindicated. To that end, we will be filing today a motion to dismiss this complaint. Child sexual abuse is evil; so is a false accusation of such abuse."