UTAH polygamist sentenced to five years, ordered to pay $78,000

Friday, August 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PROVO, Utah (AP) _ A Mormon fundamentalist with five wives and 30 children was sentenced to five years in prison Friday in Utah's biggest polygamy case in nearly half a century.

Tom Green, 53, also was ordered to repay $78,000 to the state for welfare checks fraudulently collected by his family.

He could have gotten up to 25 years behind bars.

Polygamy is an open secret in Utah and elsewhere in the West, where there are an estimated 30,000 people practicing plural marriage. But Green practically dared prosecutors to go after him by appearing on TV talk shows such as Sally Jessie Rafael's and Queen Latifah's to discuss his ``original Mormonism.''

Green took the stand for an hour Friday and made clear he had no regrets. He asked his five wives and the seven children he brought to the hearing to stand up. Pointing to them, he said: ``I am not ashamed of these people, and I'm not ashamed of my relationship with them.''

Each of his wives also took the stand. All cried, and all asked the judge for leniency.

Judge Guy Burningham said Green's unapologetic attitude left him with few options, and he sentenced the defendant to five years on each charge he faced _ four bigamy charges and one for failing to support his family. The sentences will run concurrently.

Prosecutor David Leavitt had asked for 10 years in prison.

Leavitt, the brother of Gov. Michael Leavitt and the product of a Mormon family with a polygamist past, dismissed any suggestion that Green had been singled out.

``Whenever someone gives me a provable case of any type, of any kind, I'm going to prosecute it,'' he said after the hearing.

Defense attorney John Bucher said he will appeal the conviction.

Green's wife LeeAnn said after the hearing that the family would do everything possible to avoid welfare and that they would stay together while he is in prison.

During a weeklong trial, the prosecutor attempted to portray Green as a man driven by an outsized ego to marry teen-age girls.

The defense argued that Green may not be the most likable man but that he didn't commit bigamy because he was legally married to only one woman at a time. Green was convicted in May.

He is still awaiting trial on child rape charges in connection with his 1986 marriage to Linda Kunz. Prosecutors said Kunz was 13 when she conceived a child with Green. She now is pregnant with her seventh child.

Green has argued that the statute of limitations has run out and that the charge should be dropped.

Mormon pioneers brought polygamy to Utah in the 1840s, but 50 years later the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced the practice in a bid to gain statehood for the territory.

Utah's Constitution specifically outlaws plural marriage, but the practice has persisted, particularly among those who say they are following the Mormon church's original scriptures. Polygamists are excommunicated from the church.

Utah's last concerted effort to crack down on polygamy was in 1953, when police raided the polygamous enclave of Short Creek, Ariz., on the Utah-Arizona state line.

The move backfired when film of crying children being taken from their mothers made the news. Soon after, most of the group returned to Short Creek _ now known as Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah _ and took the practice underground.