Financial collapse came after FLDS leaders in 2001 ordered all of their children to abandon public education and attend private church schools. The curriculum teaches, among other things, that man never walked on the moon and that blacks are cursed by God.

Brent Jeffs, 23, attended a private FLDS school as a child, and said most of his education consisted of religious lectures by his uncle, then-Principal Warren Jeffs. Yet that was the least of Brent Jeffs' problems. At age 5, he said, Jeffs routinely led him into a downstairs bathroom and raped him. Brent Jeffs recently filed suit in a Salt Lake City state court against his uncle and the FLDS church, claiming they knew Jeffs was a pedophile but put him in charge of children anyway. The nephew is seeking unspecified punitive damages.

FLDS children routinely leave school at an early age — as young as 11 or 12. The boys are commonly employed in FLDS work gangs.

Throughout Utah and Arizona, FLDS boys illegally work heavy construction. Polygamist crews are notorious for undercutting rivals, working more cheaply than even illegal immigrants. Injuries are common.

In one case, four underage boys employed by a Colorado City company suffered broken hips, knees and head injuries after falling off a church roof while working in Utah.

However, the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the Utah Labor Commission has fined few companies for employing children. The division's compliance manager, Tori Burns, conceded, "It's probably just a drop in the bucket."

Arizona labor commission Director Orlando Macias said his inspectors, who do routine checks around the state, had never been to Colorado City. He asked a reporter where the town was located.

Social service agencies charged with protecting children often were unaware of child endangerment or abuse allegations because, as police admitted, officers did not routinely report them.

The head of Utah's Division of Child and Family Services, Richard Anderson, said the best bet for an abused girl in the community was "to find someone she can trust."

That's tough in a tightly run theocracy where girls are taught to obey males and interaction with the outside world is largely forbidden.

Some view the FLDS, with its penchant for old-fashioned dress, hats, bonnets and braided hair, as merely a collection of eccentrics living a simple, alternative lifestyle.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) once visited the FLDS church in Hildale and played the organ. He later defended the group when asked about its alleged abuses.

"All I can say is I know people in Hildale who are polygamists who are very fine people. You come and show me the evidence of children being abused there, and I'll get involved," he told local reporters. "Bring the evidence to me."

Through a spokesman, Hatch declined to be interviewed for this story. Staff aide Peter Carr said allegations of FLDS abuse were "a matter for local and federal prosecutors."

In his successful 1991 bid for Arizona governor, Fife Symington wrote an open letter to the residents of Colorado City concerning their "family-oriented lifestyles," vowing never to do anything to "upset or question" their religion.

"Our policy was one of noninterference," he said recently. "The advice I got when running was this was an issue I wanted to stay away from."

The Mormon Church, which banned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates those who practice it, has been quiet in the face of reported abuses, giving little support to groups trying to help victims of the FLDS.

The church has weighed in on gay marriage, the Equal Rights Amendment and the flat tax. It even put out a statement on the HBO fictional polygamy series, "Big Love," but has remained mostly silent on issues relating to the FLDS and real polygamy, except to say it is forbidden for Mormons.

And the church, whose missionaries can be found in nearly every corner of the globe, draws the line at sending them to Colorado City or Hildale due to "security concerns."

"This is a problem the Mormon Church created and should stop," said Ron Barton, an investigator with the Utah attorney general's office and an expert on abuse within polygamous communities.