WASHINGTON, July 24 (UPI) -- Polygamous groups are criminal gangs that commit welfare fraud and tax evasion as well as sexual abuse, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.
Reid, D-Nev., a Mormon, spoke at the opening of a Judiciary Committee hearing on the communities, the Deseret Morning News reported. He said he was glad the hearing was being held on Pioneer Day, a Utah holiday commemorating the arrival of the Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City.
"I am here to tell you that polygamist communities in the United States are a form of organized crime," he said. "The most obvious crime being committed in these communities is bigamy, child abuse -- teen and preteen girls are forced to marry older men and bear their children."
Reid proposed a federal-state task force to police polygamous sects, CNN said. "The lawless conduct of polygamous communities in the United States deserves national and federal action," Reid told the Washington hearing.
Polygamists, including women in long dresses, packed the hearing room. The focus was on law enforcement, and the polygamists did not testify although former sect members did.
The groups have come under scrutiny because of the recent Utah conviction of Warren Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints, and the Texas raid on an FLDS compound.