News in 2003

Ponzi Scheme Rips Off Thousands, Including Many Utah Mormons

James Paul Lewis, Jr. promised a high return on investors’ money. Unfortunately, the Southern California firm that this Mormon ran, Financial Advisory Consultants, was nothing more than a pyramid scheme that ripped off more than 5,000 victims across America. Despite poor stock market returns in the past few years, Lewis was somehow able to earn 40 percent annually in one of his funds and 20 percent in another during the past two decades. Apparently he had been taking the new investors’ money and giving it to others who were already established with the company. This type of investing is illegal, and so the company’s assets were frozen this past week by a federal judge. Computers and documents have been confiscated from the three-room Orange County office of Financial Advisory Consultants. Apparently many of the victims of the scheme are Mormons themselves who heard about the amazing returns offered by Lewis’ company through friends at church. "He’s a family man, he’s a religious man, he goes to church every Sunday," said Tom Parsa of California. "He sent us pictures of his grandchildren. This is devastating, devastating news."

Many of Lewis’ victims accepted the stories told by their fellow churchgoers and were reassured when they heard that others had taken out as much as $250,000 with no problems. Clients have been told since the summer that their money was temporarily frozen by the U.S. Homeland Security department, which was apparently a lie to buy time from investors’ ire. He also took out more than $3 million on July 1 and "continues to live well," his administrative assistant said. Barry Minkow, who himself defrauded investors back in the 1980s using the same type of scheme, helped federal investigators uncover what might be the world’s longest running Ponzi scheme. Minkow is now a Christian who works as an anti-fraud investigator for the San Diego-based Fraud Discovery Institute. (Deseret News, 12/26/03)

LDS Church Leaders Say Nothing About Weapons

Although Mormon Church leaders have said that guns should not be brought to church services, they have not followed through on a new law that requires they either notify the state when guns are not allowed or post "no guns" signs on church buildings. While there has been no official pronouncement, it was the Mormon Church leaders themselves who wrote and endorsed the 2003 law passed by the Utah legislation. Many gun-rights and gun-control groups are wondering if the church has changed its mind. One guns-right advocated said, "I don’t know why the church hasn’t posted signs. They have no problem putting no-smoking signs outside Temple Square." (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/24/03)

Utah Governor Late with Property Taxes

Gov. Olene Walker paid her property taxes three week late and incurred a fine. However, three state legislators and a Salt Lake County official still have not paid. Walker, who is proposing new legislation to beef up the collection of taxes, said she thought that she had already paid her $3,700 bill. When she found out from the Salt Lake Tribune that she was late, she paid the bill and $74 in late fees. There were a total of 22,000 property owners who still had not paid their bills, including these elected officials. (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/23/03)

Utah Doctor One of Four Voting Against Abortion Pill

Joseph Stanford, a family practice physician associated with the University of Utah, was one of four panelists who voted against having the FDA allow "morning after" pills without a prescription. "I thought the manufacturer overstated effectiveness," the Pro Life doctor said. "And the company was not clearly stating that the morning after pill at times works after fertilization." The pills can be used by women within three days of a sexual encounter to prevent an egg from being fertilized or implanted on the wall of the uterus. The advisory committee, which was comprised of independent physicians, overwhelming voted 23-4 in favor of allowing retailers the freedom to offer the drug without a prescription. The FDA will eventually make the final decision. With a prescription, the pills have been available in the United States since 1999 and have been used by 2.4 million women. (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/20/03)

Domestic Abuse Cases for Women High in Utah

One out of 10 women who were admitted to the emergency department at the LDS Hospital during March 2001 suffered from domestic violence within the past year, researchers at the hospital have found. According to the anonymous survey, almost half of the women who were admitted—40 percent—said that they were abused sometime in their lifetimes; many of these women indicated that they considered suicide as a solution. "We were thrilled that the research was completed, although saddened and concerned but not surprised by the results," said a counselor with a Utah domestic shelter. "We think of Utah as the family state and don’t believe domestic violence is prevalent here, but the fact is, it happens here." Although some of the women were hesitant to help with the study, one researcher said that "this study is significant because it’s the first of its kind to help define the scope of the problem of intimate-partner abuse in Utah. We’ve never had this kind of data to quantify the magnitude of this problem from a medical perspective." According to the research, women in Utah are as much at risk for domestic violence as are women in inner-city Los Angeles and other larger cities. (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/19/03)

Tribune Not Moving to LDS Redevelopment

The Salt Lake Tribune is not currently planning to relocate to the downtown redevelopment that the LDS Church proposes to build. According to Tribune publisher Dean Singleton, a lawyer with the church asked if they would be interested. He said he would be willing to listen, but he has not heard back from the church since then. Somehow rumors of an agreement between the two parties started up, which Singleton wanted to squelch. Many Utahans are quite nervous about any ties between the church and the Tribune, and critics are warning the publisher to stay away from any agreements because the perception is that the newspaper is no longer an independent voice. "They should make certain that they are far removed from any potential taint to the paper’s credibility," said a spokesman for the McCarthey family, which originally owned the Tribune. To which Singleton replied, "It’s absurd to think that somebody has control [of The Tribune] just because they are a landlord. People can judge our independence by what we print." The McCarthey family has continued proceedings in an attempt to regain control of the paper that they lost in 2000. (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/19/2003)

Utah Utility Bills to Skyrocket

Electric bills may go up 10 percent next year, which would be the largest increase in more than a decade. Utah Power will be allowed to raise its rates by $65 million, or 7 percent, in April. The average consumer’s bill will go up about $3. In addition, the company wants to tax Utahans 3 percent to promote the conservation of energy. Utah Power says it needs the additional funds for meeting the growing energy needs in the state. The company has raised rates 14 percent in the past few years, yet a company spokesman said that "even with this increase, Utah rates still will be below what they were in 1985." (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/18/2003)

Poisonous Spiders Invade Utah Warehouse

A shipment of 300 decorative African baskets apparently contained a stash of the poisonous brown recluse spider, causing a Utah company to abandon a warehouse and fumigate the building. Fortunately, nobody was bitten. The Sundance Catalog Co., which is owned by actor Robert Redford, deals with imports from around the world and has a large international client base. Although the spider is common in Utah, it is not indigenous to the state. (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/17/2003)

Utah Unemployment Insurance Rates Set for Major Hike

An increase in the unemployment insurance rates could be anywhere from 40 to 300 percent for next year. The Utah Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund does not have adequate reserves for future benefit payments and says it needs the increase in the rates. Companies will have to fork over the extra dollars, which could move the cost of the annual premium from $23 to more than $90, depending on the final increase. The small business community will find the increase especially harsh, according to the president of a small business advocacy group. "We’re pretty nervous about it," he said. "Profit margins are slim for many small businesses and a lot of them operate right on the edge. If they get hit with an unexpected $50 here and another $50 there, pretty soon not much is left." (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/13/2003)

Mormon Name Gathering Ticks Off Russian Orthodox

Mormon efforts to add the names of dead Russians to their databases have outraged the Russian Orthodox Church. In the town of Nizhni Novogord, the LDS Church has purchased thousands of names of deceased Russians that will later be baptized by proxy in Mormon temples. According to the Guardian Unlimited (11/23/03), "the work in the archive has been temporarily called off while a local government commission studies it." A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church stated, "The teaching of the Mormons about the conversion of the dead contradicts reason and naturally causes concern among the faithful and creates a tense situation." In the past the Mormons have also offended the families of holocaust victims whose names were also added to Mormon databases. Mormons believe that they can be baptized on behalf of the deceased, thereby giving them an opportunity to embrace Mormonism in the spirit world. [Source: "Russians fume as Mormons ‘buy souls,’ guardian.co.uk)

Same Sex Marriage in Massachusetts?

On Tuesday, November 18th the Supreme Judicial Court of the state of Massachusetts, in a 4-3 decision, struck down as unconstitutional a law prohibiting same-sex marriage "Attorney Mary Bonauto, who represented the seven gay couples who sued the state, said the only task assigned to the Legislature is to come up with changes in the law that will allow gay couples to marry at the end of the 180-day period" (cbsnews.com). Many believe that if this decision is not reversed that it may pave the way for such marriages across the land. We at MRM have been saying for years that should same-sex marriage become law in America the Mormon Church will have a public relations nightmare on its hands since it will only be a matter of time before laws prohibiting polygamy will be challenged. Mormons often argue that the reason they do not practice polygamy is because it is banned b American law. Should that excuse be taken away, it will be interesting to see how the LDS Church reacts.

Utah Has Woes in Mental Health Problems

The state of Utah has higher than average mental health problems in its rural areas, according to talk by Michael Rosmann, a farmer and clinical psychologist, at the fourth Annual Conference on Rural Health Issues in Cedar City. Among the evidence given by Rosmann were the facts that the suicide rates are higher than average—16.3 per 100,000 people compared to 12 per 100,000 for the rest of the nation—as well as the fact that a higher percentage of Utahans report having "bad mental health days." "The mental health problems in rural Utah are severe," said one man connected to the state health department. "The problems go unmet. They don’t have the resources we have in Salt Lake." Rosmann warned that more rural Utahans are using methamphetamines in order to work longer hours. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/7/2003)

More People in Utah Worry About Source of Next Meal

More Utahans worry about where their next meal will come than any other state. The report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says one in 8 Utahans from 2000-2 is "food insecure." The report is "an indication of how poorly poor families are doing," said the executive director of Utahns Against Hunger. The national average is approximately one in 10. States that follow Utah were Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Idaho, Oregon, Louisiana, and Georgia. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/4/2003)

BYU Exults in Ratings

Utah’s Brigham Young University—owned and operated by the LDS Church—received good news this past week in several national rankings. First, the university ranked 67th in the United States among schools offering doctorate-level degrees, according to the US News and World Report. As far as value in doctorate degrees, BYU ranked 16th. And the magazine declared that the school’s undergraduate business management program moved from 38th last year to 36th this year.

Leaders at BYU were also pleased with the label of No. 1 "stone-cold sober" college for a fifth consecutive year. The Princeton Review annually determines such issues as which school is most religious, low hard liquor usage ("Scotch and soda, hold the scotch"), and low beer usage ("Got milk"), categories all won by BYU. In addition, the school scored second for "best quality of life," "town-gown relations are good," and "don’t inhale (low marijuana usage)." The university also scored in the top 10 for "Great college library," "Students most nostalgic for Ronald Reagan (lean right politically)," "Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution," and "Best academic bang for your buck." The Princeton Review conducted 106,000 student surveys at 351 top colleges and universities, publishing its findings in "The Princeton Review Guide: The Best 351 Colleges." "We are proud of all of those things," BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. "We would like them to point out the No. 1 stone-cold sober ranking goes hand-in-hand with quality of life." (Deseret News, 8/19/2003, 8/23/2003)

Movie Theater Caters to Parents of Small Children

A Sandy, Utah movie theater is opening its doors to parents and their small children in an effort to give parents a chance to see the latest movies. Moviegoers at Sandy’s Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons will not only be able to see first-rate movies every other Monday at 11 a.m. (children under 5 are free), but they can also socialize with other parents an hour before the movie starts. The program is known as the "MOMS (standing for "Movies on Monday)" Club." Apparently the first day was a great success. "For these mothers, who stay at home and have no social life and [only] talk to their children all day, this is a chance to get out and say, ‘I got to see the newest movie — I didn’t have to wait until it came out on video,’ " said the chain’s marketing manager. Strollers are allowed, house lights will remain partially on so parents can keep track of their children, and the sound will be lowered so the babies are not startled. Breast-feeding is even encouraged. (Salt Lake Tribune, 8/22/03)

"Porter Rockwell Boulevard" Considered for Utah Town

The Utah town of Bluffdale (Pop. 5,000) is considering a proposal to honor a famous Utah killer, Orrin Porter Rockwell, known as the "Destroying Angel" because he used rough image and guns to take care of church justice. Bluffdale’s leaders may name a major unbuilt thoroughfare after the man who served as bodyguard to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Known by his deep-set, dark eyes and long, thin hair—Smith told him that he would be blessed by God if he did not cut it—Rockwell once lived in Bluffdale and sold whiskey to stagecoach inn travelers. Among other stories, Rockwell attempted to assassinate former Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs for having issued an order in the late 1830s to drive the Mormons out of his state. Although Boggs was shot several times, he did survive. Some historians estimate that Rockwell killed at least 100 people during his days before dying of old age at 65. "That’s a historical identity, good or evil," the mayor of Bluffdale said. "He’s part of the past, and he played an important role, not only in Bluffdale but also in this part of the state." (Deseret News, 8/18/03)

Utah Governor Becomes Head of EPA

Gov. Mike Leavitt has accepted a position in the Bush cabinet and has resigned as Utah’s governor. Leavitt, a Mormon who served the state of Utah for 11 years, has become the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Many thought that Leavitt, who is known to be a good friend to the president, might have left the governorship earlier when Bush first became president in 2000. However, he declined several earlier offers. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, 72, will serve the remaining 16 months of the governor’s term. Walker has a Ph.D. in education administration and is considered a moderate Republican. The race for governor in 2004 is now wide open, as it is unclear if Walker will even run. She says her age is a factor to be considered. (Deseret News, 8/11/03)

Neil Simon Not Welcome at Utah Theater

Producer Neil Simon’s Broadway play "Rumors" has been canceled before it ever began in one Utah dinner theater because of too many "f-words and taking the lord’s name in vain." Gayliene Omary, a Utah native who is the co-owner of the amateur Grove Theater in Pleasant Grove, attempted to substitute other words or have them mumbled, but her suggestion was rejected by Simon’s lawyers. "If we were to [go on with the show], we’d get sued," Omary said. The company that is in charge of script distribution says that Simon "does not allow changes to his scripts under any circumstances." The amateur company, which puts on one play a month, could lose between $25,000-$30,000 for standing up to its morals. "This has been a very expensive lesson," Omary said. "I want people to walk in here and not be afraid of what they see." (Salt Lake Tribune, 8/9/03)

Plaza Deal Under Attack in Court

Just when everyone thought that the Temple Square plaza situation was over, the American Civil Liberties Union is filing suit today alleging that the city has illegally made an illegal agreement with the LDS Church that violates the Constitution. Although the church and city made a recent agreement that takes away the public’s easement rights on the plaza and which effectively restricts protests and other activities on the square bordering Temple Square, the ACLU hopes to repel this agreement in court. Criticizing not only the LDS Church but Rocky Anderson, the mayor of Salt Lake City and an ACLU member, the ACLU says the Mormon religion was unfairly favored at the city government level. Facing re-election this year, Anderson is said to have made a deal that really only involved a mere pittance in order to keep his popularity up in the city. "We’re asking [the court] to look at this as a whole, look at the manipulations that went on, look to see if there was a secular reason for vacating the easement," said Dani Eyer, executive director of the ACLU’s Utah chapter. "We hope the city is forced to do what it should have done — that is to regulate the competing uses with time, place and manner regulations." The easement deal, which cost the LDS Church four acres of land and $5 million, went into effect on July 28. (Salt Lake Tribune, 8/7/03)

Mall Plans Get Criticized in Salt Lake

One renovation proposal for Crossroads Mall—which is located across the street from Temple Square in Salt Lake City and recently purchased by the Mormons—is receiving strong criticism by City Hall critics. Among other things, the Church would like to extend a skywalk between Crossroads and the neighboring ZCMI Center (also owned by the Mormons), is intended to increase foot traffic and making it easier to integrate the retail with office, residential, and entertainment opportunities. However, it is questioned if this does not conflict with the downtown plan forged in 1995. One city planner says that the developers ought to be encouraging more traffic on city streets, thus benefiting other downtown businesses. "We are very wary of any plan that would include a sky bridge," another planner said. "We believe there are much better design solutions…. You can do all kinds of linkages that don’t involve sky bridges. So creating a solution that meets everyone’s needs would be a much better option." (Deseret News 8/6/03)

Utah State Creating Religious Program

Utah State University in Logan, Utah is planning a broad-based religious studies program with an eventual goal of offering an undergraduate degree. The plan is to offer a number of disciplines, including disciplines involving Mormonism and Islam. Philosophy professor Richard Sherlock said, "To this point, any student who wants to major in religious studies has to leave the state. We want to change that." The school has previously tried to set up a program, but politics and disagreements in the department about the role of research and teaching about the LDS Church ended the plans. Some members apparently don’t want USU, which has more LDS students than the University of Utah, sponsoring a "front" for the Mormon Church, while some Latter-day Saint professors are worried that undue public criticism of the Church would be encouraged. It is hoped that the first chair in this program will begin in the fall of 2004. (Deseret News, 8/2/03)

Newborn Screening is Adequate in Utah

Although it has the nation’s highest birth rate, a March of Dimes study shows that the state of Utah requires the testing for only four of nine possible diseases. Only two other states and Puerto Rico were worse than Utah, with seven other states also requiring the testing for only four diseases. Meanwhile, there are nine states that require testing for all nine diseases, with the state of Oregon being the only one west of the Mississippi. The March of Dimes recommendation recommends the screening for nine metabolic disorders as well as a hearing test. However, the cost to run all of the tests can be prohibitive, depending on the patient’s insurance program. To expand the program at this time could put undue stress on the health care system, one health care administrator said. (Salt Lake Tribune, 7/29/03)

Refinance Boom Hits State of Utah

Almost a third of all Utah homeowners took advantage of low mortgage rates and refinanced their properties, according to a Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll. However, the rates have jumped back up during the past couple of weeks, slowing what has been a boon season for the refinancing companies. The vast majority of those who refinanced said they did so because the rates were the lowest they have been in two generations. (Deseret News, 7/31/03)

Plaza Legal Woes May Not Be Over Quite Yet

It appears that the legal controversy surrounding the Main Street "Plaza" is not over despite the fact that Mayor Rocky Anderson signed the city’s easement over to the LDS church in July. According to the church-owned Deseret News, "The congregation of the First Unitarian Church, 569 S. 1300 East, voted overwhelmingly Sunday to sue Salt Lake City to prevent turning over the public access easement on the Main Street Plaza." The same group was also involved in the first lawsuit. Originally the Mormons had agreed to allow the city an easement through the property that was once a part of Main Street, east of Temple Square. This easement was to guarantee public access between North and South Temple. However, the LDS Church wanted to enforce behavior and free speech restrictions on the property, something the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said it could not due as long as the city owned the easement. After several months of negotiation the city finally caved and on July 28th the easement was exchanged for a parcel of land in the western part of the city. The Mormons bought the section of Main Street in 1999 for $8.1 million. (Deseret News, 8/4/03)

Newborn Screening is Adequate in Utah

Although it has the nation’s highest birth rate, a March of Dimes study shows that the state of Utah requires the testing for only four of nine possible diseases. Only two other states and Puerto Rico were worse than Utah, with seven other states also requiring the testing for only four diseases. Meanwhile, there are nine states that require testing for all nine diseases, with the state of Oregon being the only one west of the Mississippi. The March of Dimes recommendation recommends the screening for nine metabolic disorders as well as a hearing test. However, the cost to run all of the tests can be prohibitive, depending on the patient’s insurance program. To expand the program at this time could put undue stress on the health care system, one health care administrator said. (Salt Lake Tribune, 7/29/03)

Refinance Boom Hits State of Utah

Almost a third of all Utah homeowners took advantage of low mortgage rates and refinanced their properties, according to a Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll. However, the rates have jumped back up during the past couple of weeks, slowing what has been a boon season for the refinancing companies. The vast majority of those who refinanced said they did so because the rates were the lowest they have been in two generations. (Deseret News, 7/31/03)

Kingston Polygamist Arrested on Incest Charges

Jeremy Kingston, a member of "The Kingston clan," a group of polygamists also known as "the Latter-day Church of Christ," was arrest on July 24th on the charge of incest. Utah police arrested Kingston while he attended a family outing on Pioneer Day in the city of Bountiful, north of Salt Lake City. According to KUTV.com "The incest charge stems from Kingston’s alleged 1995 marriage to his first-cousin LuAnn Kingston when she was 15 and he was 24. After five years, during which time two daughters were born, LuAnn Kingston left the marriage and asked the state to prosecute… LuAnn Kingston said Jeremy Kingston had three wives and 17 children when he married her. She told investigators that her father-in-law, Joseph Ortell Kingston, is her half brother, making her ex-husband a nephew as well as a cousin." The Latter-Day Church of Christ, is estimated to have as many as 1200 followers who believe they are practicing Mormonism the way Joseph Smith and Brigham Young intended.

Salt Lake City Homes Losing Money

Despite the escalation of home prices around the country, homes in Salt Lake City lost money in the last fiscal quarter, retreating 1.6 percent to $184,418 compared to the second quarter in 2002. The number of homes that were sold also declined. "Those aren’t good signs, but they make a lot of sense given how weak the Salt Lake economy is," said Mark Knold, Utah Department of Workforce Services economist. The old economical law of supply and demand means there are too many homes for sale and not enough buyers. One factor is that fewer people are coming to Utah from other states while many are leaving. One man from Nevada has been trying to sell his home for a year but to no avail, having to cut the price from $359,000 to $320,000. Meanwhile, the Utah jobless rate is more than 5%. Some economists are concerned that there are too many homes being built, which could cause further erosion of home values. (Salt Lake Tribune, 7/20/03)

Utah Teens Imbibing in the Fruit of the Vine

Utah teens are drinking earlier than ever before, sometimes taking their first drinks at 12. Recent polls compiled at state high school basketball competitions show that 43,000 teenagers in Utah drink alcohol, and a total of 41% between the ages of 12-18 have consumed alcohol (with 30 % of these on a daily basis). An astounding 41% of the teen drinkers say they have driven a car while under the influence of alcohol. "The present-day facts are that underage drinking in Utah is not only alarming, but it is intolerable," George Van Komen, a Salt Lake doctor and president of the Utah Alcohol Policy Coalition, said. "This is an unbearable affliction on our state." State officials responded by unveiling a plan this week called "Saving Lives, Stopping Misery." Among other things, the five-point proposal will seek help from parents and the public to address the issue. Education is one important factor, considering that one on nine parents of teen drinkers allowed their children to drink whenever and wherever they wanted. An increase in the alcohol tax is also proposed, which would raised the cost of a 12-pack of Coors from $8.99 to $9.19. (Deseret News, 7/16/03)

Rape Crime in Utah Well Above National Average

A federal report shows that one in five adult women in Utah—or a total of 157,000 women in the state—has been forcibly raped at least once in her lifetime. The report comes from the South Carolina-based National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, giving Utah the top spot in the continental United States for its estimated percentage of rape victims. "Our findings clearly demonstrate the fact that Utah has a substantial rape problem," said the report from the research group, which was established and is partly funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"I was shocked to see this," said Jamee Roberts, executive director of the Salt Lake City-based Rape Recovery Center. "I knew we were bad; I had no idea we were this bad. We should be hanging our heads in shame." She added that the numbers are reliable and can be trusted. Only Alaska (20.9% of its women raped versus 20.6% in Utah compared to 13.4% of all women nationally) has a higher rate in the United States. The estimates are said to be conservative because they do not include the cases of women who have experienced attempted rape; rapes where the women were unconscious or impaired by drugs or alcohol; or statutory rape where there was no force. (Salt Lake Tribune, 7/12/03)

Temple Burns to Ground… Except the Angel Moroni

The temple in Samoa that was currently being renovated was destroyed by fire on Wednesday evening, July 9, leaving only the steel girders, the exterior walls, and the angel Moroni behind. The temple was built in 1983 and was closed as workers made improvements, including the planned addition of a baptismal font for the dead. It took more than 100 volunteers and the fire department several hours to extinguish the flames on the almost 15,000-square foot building According to the Deseret News, the angel was "smoke-stained and on a forward slant but still there." "That was a significant thing to the members and others," said Elder Jerry King, half of a Pacific islands public affairs LDS missionary couple who was in Apia meeting with temple engineers. Although there is no official word from church leadership, the building will most likely be rebuilt. It is the only temple destroyed by a disaster since the abandoned Nauvoo temple was significantly damaged by an arsonist in November 1848. The St. George temple was hit by lightening in August 1878, which destroyed the steeple before the building was extinguished by rain. A fire in the Logan temple caused about $100,000 in 1917. (Deseret News, 7/11/03)

Utah Kids Can’t Seem to Get It Write

According to recent assessment tests, Utah fourth and eighth grade students rank behind the U.S. average in writing. The report showed that one out of five Utah fourth grade students are below the average, while only one out of six are below average in the rest of the nation. Just one out of five of these fourth graders in Utah are "proficient" or "advanced" compared to one out of four in the U.S. Meanwhile, 23 percent of the eighth graders are below basic levels compared to 16 percent for the U.S. average, and only 23 percent were proficient or advanced compared to 30 percent in the rest of the nation. The results also showed that girls are doing much better than boys. A total of 73 percent of the fourth grade boys were at or above a basic level compared to 88 percent of the girls, while in eighth grade 68 percent were at or above a basic level compared to 88 percent of the girls. The tests determined how well students could compose essays and other assignments. Despite the low scores, these test results are actually an improvement from five years ago. (Deseret News, 7/11/03)

Utah Crime Climbs Dramatically

Crime in Utah jumped up 21% in the first quarter of 2003, with violent crimes involving murder, robbery, and assault increasing 17%. However, rape crimes were down 13%. The results come from criminal law agencies reporting to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification. According to the report, burglary, larceny, and arson and car thefts were up, which was a big reason for the large increases of overall crime. Impersonation fraud (or identity theft) was also up sharply, growing 1,500 percent from 1996 to 2002. One Salt Lake City detective could not give any reason for the jump in Utah’s crime rate other than to say how many were "crimes of opportunity." Another possible reason is the large number of enforcement officers in Utah for the 2002 Olympic Games; many criminals may have decided to take a few months off. (Deseret News, 7/11/03)

Plaza Purchase Primarily to Beautify Downtown Area?

LDS President Gordon Hinckley is claiming that the plaza purchased by the church for more than $8 million several years ago was mainly to beautify the Salt Lake City downtown area. Speaking at a luncheon to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Hinckley said, "I think this may sound a little brazen, but in my judgment what benefits the church in this community also benefits the city, benefits the community because all of our efforts are in the direction of making this very attractive, which because it’s the headquarters of the church, attracts millions upon millions of visitors. And when they come here, they spend money in your establishments and you benefit from that which occurs here in a very direct and meaningful way."

Hinckley added that the church’s recent purchase of the Crossroads Mall, across the street from the temple, was motivated by the same reason: "…to do something to make of that a very attractive and beautiful and viable thing." Hinckley closed his speech with these words: "Now, when you’re through here, I’d like to invite you to take just a few minutes to go back and walk out here to the plaza and look at this little piece of real estate that has brought about so much notice in the newspapers. And look at the beauty of it and feel the spirit of it and then smile as you walk down the street and say, ‘Isn’t that just great.’"

Some would argue that the purchase of a portion of Main Street was motivated by the desire to stifle free speech. Once the Mormons took over the property they immediately prohibited the distribution of literature that was deemed critical of Mormonism. (Deseret News, 6/28/03)

Utah May Get Fourth Congressional Seat

The state of Utah is looking to add a fourth seat in Congress if a recent proposal advocating a seat for Washington D.C. is accepted. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va, the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is attempting to add two seats to the House of Representatives, which would then bring the total number of seats to 437. Davis wants to give the D.C. residents a voice in the government, but since it is all but certain that they would vote a Democrat into office, he wants to make sure that the next deserving state—the conservative state of Utah—also received more input into the affairs of the federal government. Utah officials felt that it had a fourth seat stolen last year when North Carolina had 800 more residents since the 11,000 LDS missionaries from Utah were not counted in the 2000 census. "On more than one substantial claim in our Census case, we were wronged," Gov. Mike Leavitt’s office said. It won’t be known for some time if Davis is actually successful with his proposal. (Salt Lake Tribune, 6/28/03)

Val Kilmer as Joseph Smith?

The film producer who put out the Mormon films "God’s Army" and "Brigham City" is hoping to produce a movie on the life of LDS founder Joseph Smith, but Richard Dutcher is having a hard time finding venture capital. "Every time someone buys ‘God’s Army,’ I can get a loaf of bread," he joked recently, adding that he had to sell some personal land holdings in order to stay afloat, despite the financial success of "God’s Army." ("Brigham City," on the other hand, was not successful at the box office.) Actor Val Kilmer (Tombstone, Batman Forever, The Saint) has already promised that he will portray Joseph Smith while F. Murray Abraham (Star Trek Insurrection, Finding Forrester) would play Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford.

The sets and wardrobe are already completed; in fact, Dutcher was just six weeks away from beginning the actual filming before his money ran out. Mormon investors are cautious, partly because they are not sure how Smith’s wild card issues of polygamy and the failed Kirtland banking venture will be handled. Dutcher refuses to turn the project over to a major studio because he doesn’t want to lose creative control. Instead, Dutcher—who has a wife and five children to feed—is planning to produce "God’s Army II," a script he wrote three years ago. (Deseret News, 6/24/03)

Brisbane Becomes Temple Number 115

Mormon President Gordon B. dedicated the church’s 115th temple in Brisbane, Australia on June 15th. This is the fifth such building in the country. LDS temples are also located in the Australian cities of Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Perth.

Mormon Crickets Are Back

Residents in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada are facing another infestation of "Mormon" crickets in what some are calling "plague-like levels." The grasshopper-like bugs are actually "shield-backed" katydids. According to the Deseret News (6/14/03), "Experts in the three states say this year’s infestation could be the worst in decades. An estimated 5 million acres are infested in Nevada. Officials in southwestern Idaho say the infestation there is the worst since World War II. And Utah agriculture officials estimate 6 million acres — more than double last year’s plague — will be infested before the crickets die off." According to the article, "Their voracious appetites take in anything — sagebrush, alfalfa, wheat, barley, clover, seeds, grasses, vegetables. At a density of just one cricket per square yard, they can consume 38 pounds of forage per acre as they pass through an area." Infestations of this kind are not uncommon in the area, especially when the region has experienced a warm winter. The crickets get their name from Mormon folklore. As the story goes, God miraculously saved the crops of the early pioneers after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley by sending thousands of seagulls to devour the pests when a similar incident took place in 1848. Some historians however, question the story’s validity. See this article.

Mormons Celebrate 25th Anniversary of "Priesthood Revelation"

On June 7, 1978 the LDS Church reversed its long-standing position that banned those of African heritage from holding priesthood positions that, according to Mormon teaching, are vital if one hopes to achieve godhood in the next life. 25 years later the Mormon church has moved into areas of the world that were virtually ignored in the past. President Spencer Kimball is credited with receiving a revelation making the discriminatory doctrine null and void. In the official statement found at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants it states that earlier Mormons had predicted that the ban would eventually be lifted and that "the long-promised day had come." This statement made by the First Presidency is not entirely accurate. While it is true that earlier Mormon leaders did say the ban would eventually be lifted, it was also believed and taught that it would not be lifted until after the resurrection. Please see this article.

One Year Anniversary of Smart Kidnapping

June 5th marks the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, taken from her Salt Lake City home in the early morning hours. Smart was 14 years-old at the time. She was held by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee for nine months. Smart was recognized on March 12, 2003 and Mitchell and Barzee were arrested.

Killer Gets Execution Reprieve

Third District Court Judge Michael Burton ordered a stay of execution on June 3rd for convicted serial killer Roberto Arguelles. Arguelles was sentenced to death in 1997 for raping and murdering four Utah women. He was scheduled to be executed by firing squad on June 27th. Such a method of execution is not uncommon in Utah. In an article titled "Mormonism and Capital Punishment:A Doctrinal Perspective, Past and Present," Martin R. Gardner notes, "Existence of the firing squad solely in Utah is no coincidence but instead is a consequence of an attempt by early legislators to effectuate religious belief through the capital punishment law of the state. Mormon justifications of capital punishment were intricately related to blood atonement, a doctrine requiring shedding blood as expiation for certain sins" (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.9-10).

Salt Lake Newspaper Gets New Editor

Following the resignation of editor James Shelledy, the Salt Lake Tribune has hired MediaNews Group executive Nancy Conway. Conway becomes the first female editor in the history of the 132-year-old paper. Stating that he felt he had lost the confidence of the Tribune staff, Shelledy resigned after two reporters were fired for selling the National Enquirer information regarding the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case. (Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/03)

Marijuana Plants Growing on LDS Land

Twenty marijuana plants were found by narcotics officers in Cache County, Utah, growing on land owned by the Mormon Church. The plants were found in a remote area near Sardine Canyon. (Deseret News, 5/5/03)

Utah Has One of the Best Child Welfare Systems

Receiving kudos in a federal review, Utah’s child welfare system is considered one of the best in America. Although there are still some problems, Utah’s program apparently is dealing with most of them, according to the lead reviewer from the Administration for Children and Youth in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Just a decade ago, the system was graded by a national youth advocacy group as one of the worst in the nation. The state was given high marks for responding very quickly to abuse cases, keeping children in the system safe, and working with authorities to make sure children get proper care. Utah places more children with family members than any other state that was reviewed. (Deseret News, 5/3/2003)

Utah Isn’t "Ritalin State" as Many Think

The use of Ritalin in Utah is close to the national average, according to a Utah Department of Health study. Ritalin—used to help treat children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—helps calms its users. Almost 5% of Utah children ages 5-14 used Ritalin or other stimulant medications in 2002, which is about average for the nation. A representative from Utah’s chapter of Children and Adults with ADHD said the study would help end the myth that Utah leads the nation in Ritalin use. "It shows we’re right in the middle nationally, which is where we ought to be for helping our kids," she said. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/23/03)

Ice Cream Trucks May Get the Boot

Salt Lake City politicians are debating whether or not to allow ice cream trucks to roam their city streets this summer. Despite being the capital of the nation’s highest per capita consumption of ice cream, the city council is looking to pass an ordinance that will require the operators to pay special registration fees as well as equip their trucks with safety lights and caution gates. The proposed rule would also prohibit the trucks from having their jingling tunes heard more than 50 feet away from the truck. Current regulations allow for 330 feet. Opponents say that such a restricting law would cause ice cream trucks to become almost extinct because vendors would be charged the extra fees and possibly fewer customers with the less noisy jingle. The proposal was made by Mayor Rocky Anderson after numerous complaints of loud trucks. The city has scheduled a public hearing on May 13 to look further into the issue. (Deseret News, 4/13/03)

White Supremacists Becoming More Common in North Utah

An influx of white supremacists is coming into northern Utah, as law enforcement officials say they are struggling to keep up with so many gang members making their home in Utah. The police in Roy, an Ogden, Utah suburb, is teaming up with nine other law enforcement agencies to track gangs and individuals who espouse white supremacist ideas. "We’re just getting flooded with these guys," one police lieutenant said, saying he first noticed them in the late summer of 2001. Since that time, about 65 parolees identified as white supremacists have been arrested in the area, mostly for drug crimes. Apparently the white supremacists are being attracted to northern Utah by a relatively low police presence and citizens who may be tolerant to such views. Among the groups active in Utah are the Fourth Reich, National Alliance, Arizona Hammerheads, National Socialist White People’s Party, and Silent Aryan Warriors. (New York Times, 4/4/03)

Protestor May Get the Boot at BYU

A 21-year-old student who was arrested while protesting the war in Iraq may get expelled from Mormon-owned Brigham Young University. The junior could also be denied the possibility of serving a mission after graduation. Caleb Proulx broke a federal law when he blocked the entrance to the federal building in Salt Lake City. The arrest breaks BYU’s honor code, which is signed by students before they are admitted to the university. "The whole point, our intention, was to get arrested," Proulx said of Monday’s protest where a half dozen other protestors were detained. "Getting arrested is not a decision I took lightly," he added, saying he knew that this blemish on his record could be detrimental in staying at BYU and getting a future job. Proux will appear in federal court on April 10 for the single misdemeanor charge of creating a disturbance on federal property, with the possible consequence entailing six months in jail and a $10,000 fine. Proux created controversy earlier in the semester when he wore a "No War in Iraq" armband while he was on campus. (Deseret News, 3/27/03)

Utah May Make Graduating a Little Tougher

The Utah State Board of Education is considering a proposal to make graduating from high school a little more rigorous. Among other changes, the board will probably decide that Ds are no longer passing grades for a diploma and that students would have to pass a year-end test. By stressing core academic classes, electives such as weight-lifting and ceramics may not have enough funding. In order to incorporate the tougher standards, the block schedule of 90-minute classes may either have to be lengthened or schools will have to offer fewer classes per day in regular 55-minute scheduled classes. The proposals will go before the board on April 4, and a final vote is scheduled for August. (Deseret News, 3/25/03)

Salt Lake School District Struggles with SAT Scores

Although 9 out of 10 nationwide big-city schools have improved their test scores, the Salt Lake City School District is among those which have not. Leaders of the district are minimizing the results of a study released this week. "No one should take it at face value," an assistant superintendent said. According to the report, math and reading scores dropped in the Salt Lake schools in the five years between 1997-2002 on the Stanford Achievement Tests. For example, SAT scores for Salt Lake fifth-graders dropped during the five years from 42 to 36 while the rest of the state remained constant at 49. For eighth-graders, math scores in Salt Lake dropped from 47 to 39, while they dropped statewide from 60 to 56. (Deseret News, 3/25/03)

Tabernacle Choir Has Its Own Label

The world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which has recorded more than 150 albums on a variety of labels, has come up with its own label that will direct and produce future recordings on CDs, videos, concerts, and commentaries. The first release will be a CD titled "Consider the Lilies" in April. Besides performing approximately 75 times a year, the choir has won a Grammy and an Emmy and has performed for 10 U.S. presidents. (Salt Lake Tribune, 3/22/03)

LDS Church Buys Crossroads Mall

A major shopping mall located across the street from the Salt Lake City Mormon temple has been purchased by the Mormon Church. The cost of purchasing the Crossroads Plaza mall was not known, as the funds will come from church investment reserves. The church has long owned the land where the mall is located as well as the adjacent ZCMI Center mall. No immediate changes in the mall are planned. One anchor store, Nordstrom, has a lease that goes through 2005. However, the company announced that it has filed a letter of intent with The Boyer Co. to open a 124,000-square-foot store at another Salt Lake City mall called The Gateway. Mayor Rocky Anderson is willing to allow Nordstrom to make the move but some city council members believe the store should either stay at Crossroads or "leave town." Council vice chairwoman Jill Remington Love said, "The issue isn’t about Nordstrom, the issue is about zoning and where do we want our big retailers." Both the previous owner and the Mormon Church tried to persuade the retailer to stay, but in the words of Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White, "the time for negotiating and submitting new proposals has passed." The new owners say that they will not try to get the Crossroads mall to close on Sundays, a rule currently followed by the ZCMI Center (Deseret News, 3/19,20/03).

Elizabeth Smart Found!!! Prayers of Many are Answered

We are pleased to report that Elizabeth Smart, the 15-year-old kidnapped by a man who once had worked for her family, was found alive on Wednesday. Elizabeth had been missing for nine months before she was found in Brain David Mitchell’s vehicle just 15 miles from the Utah home where the teen had disappeared last June. Wearing a a wig as a disguise, Elizabeth appeared to be OK and was immediately taken to the Salt Lake City police department. Known as "Emmanuel," Mitchell was arrested along with an unidentified woman. It was just last month that the Smart family upped a reward for the safe return of their daughter; it was at that time that they also released a new sketch of Mitchell, a man who apparently believed himself to be a prophet who was called to preach to the homeless. After 16,000 different leads, it was this new sketch that apparently helped two different female witnesses identify Mitchell and call police with the car’s location. MRM is grateful for the safe return of Elizabeth to her family and wishes the Smarts the very best. (Associated Press, 3/12/03)

Missionary Lapel Used in Theft

A ruse involving several men who dressed up as LDS missionaries ended up in the arrest of a man in Utah County. The suspect, a 25-year-old man dressed in slacks and a white shirt and tie with a missionary lapel, went into a computer store last week in American Fork and told the owner that he was on an errand from his bishop to pick up a computer so he could deliver it to a disabled church member who had recently been robbed. The man’s companion waited in a truck outside the store. The owner of the store, James Lindsey, said he was unable to donate the computer but would sell it at his cost. When the "missionary" agreed, the owner called the "bishop" who promised to later send the money. However, that man was also involved in the scam.

When Lindsey realized several days later that he had been duped, he went to the home of the phony missionary and asked for payment, but the man ducked out of the house. A few days later the thief returned to the store wanting to pay for the computer, but Lindsey ended up locking the door before calling the police. The man ended up in tears, saying that he really was a BYU student who was preparing to serve a mission. The police decided to let the man pay for the computer and issued him a warning. Later, they realized that the man really was not a BYU student, so they tracked him down and arrested him for theft by deception and giving false information to the police. (Deseret News, 3/12/03)

Mormon Missionary Killed

Nathan Scott Godfrey, a Mormon missionary serving in Argentina, was killed as he attempted to save a 13 year-old from a deep puddle during a rainstorm. Sadly, a power line had fallen during the storm and both were electrocuted. Our prayers go out to his family. (Salt Lake Tribune, 3/11/03)

A Mormon Version of Santeria?

"Reverend Doctor Lady Bishop" claims to be a "premier voodoo priestess, a messenger of a mélange of disciplines including black magic and Mormonism." Says the Reverend Doctor, "I’m a devout Vatican One Traditional Latin Roman Catholic, but I go to the Mormon Church every Sunday. My Mormon books are just as worn as my Bibles. The Mormons don’t take any foolishness, and they have the most positive and truest church. If I had my druthers, I’d be Mormon." She claims to be the bishop of "The Universal Chapel of True and Believing Prayer" and can often be found "sipping cocoa" at the Scottsdale’s Redfish restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. Click here for more.

Numbers Don’t Lie for Utah

The new 2002 edition of the annual statistical abstract of the U.S. shows that Utah leads the nation in a number of areas. For instance:

  • Utah has the nation’s lowest cigarette smoking rate, with only 13 percent of the population smoking compared to 23 percent for the rest of the nation.
  • Utah’s home ownership rate is amongst the highest in the nation, where more than 72 percent of the homes are owner-occupied compared to 68 percent nationally.
  • There are less alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Utah (24 percent) than the rest of the country (40 percent) *More males work in Utah than any other state, with 82 percent of employable men having jobs compared to 75 percent for the rest of the nation.

(Deseret News, 3/5/03)

Mormon Anthropologist Will Not Be Excommunicated

Matthew Latimer, president of the Lynnwood stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that anthropologist Thomas Murphy will not be disciplined for his criticisms of the Book of Mormon. Murphy raised national attention when he went public with his findings that DNA did not support the LDS teaching that native Americans (Lamanites) were related to ancient Hebrews. Murphy was originally scheduled for a disciplinary hearing last December, but this was postponed due to national publicity. Said Murphy, "I’ll no longer feel the threat of my church membership being revoked based upon my scientific research." (Heraldnet.com, 2/24/03)

Internet Threats Against Hinckley Taken Seriously

A Utah man who was making Internet death threats against LDS Prophet Gordon Hinckley has been arrested in Nevada and will face federal felony charges. Jay Richard Morrison, 57, has been under surveillance since last summer as his threats against Hinckley became more specific. Among other things, he wrote that he was not only given the "moral right" to kill Hinckley but the 12 apostles as well. Morrison was arrested in Nevada when a police officer decided to check his background after seeing the suspect act suspiciously at a rest stop. Although officials do not believe that Morrison was planning an attack in the near future, the U.S. attorney said that "we’re not going to find out the hard way if he has the capability of harming someone else." Morrison, who has not held a job for five years, was going to be psychologically evaluated to evaluate his mental condition. (KUTV.Com, 2/20/03)

Percentage of Mormons in Utah’s Varies

Although Mormons certainly make up the largest percentage of religious people in the state of Utah, the rate of Mormons in a particular county can range from less than 30 percent to as high as almost 90 percent. Utah County has the highest percentage of Mormons in Utah, which is hardly surprising since LDS-owned BYU is based in this county. In fact, it is estimated that 98 percent of BYU’s 30,000 students and 95 percent of the faculty of the Provo campus are Latter-day Saints. The study came from the American Religion Data Archive, a project funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc during he year 2000. Following Utah County were the following counties: Morgan (87%), Rich (85%), Sevier and Sanpete (82%), and six each with 80% (Cache, Box Elder, Juab, Wayne, Millard, and Tooele). The largest concentration of Mormons can be found in Salt Lake County, which has more than half a million Mormons enrolled in more than 1,000 wards. However, only a total of 56 percent of Salt Lake County is LDS.

Meanwhile, the lowest percentage of Mormons in Utah counties were found in Grand (28%), Summit (37%), and San Juan (38%). As a whole the state of Utah is two-thirds Mormon, with Roman Catholics making the second-highest total at 4.3 percent of the entire Utah population. Someone might ask, Which religious group in Utah had the largest growth during the decade of the 1990s? The answer? The Salvation Army, a Protestant group that grew from less than 100 members in 1990 to almost 500 in 2000, a gain of more than 500 percent. (Deseret News, 2/10/03)

Vandals Deface Brigham Young Statue

Dumping a bucket of red paint over a statue of second LDS president Brigham Young and scrawling "sexist" on the stone base, vandals made a statement in Provo during the last weekend in January. Provo is home to LDS-owned Brigham Young University. Previously on Christmas Day vandals had used a grass-etching paint that destroyed windows at three locations on University Avenue. The police department is wondering how this desecration could have gone unnoticed by anyone, including police. As far as having Young be a target, BYU professor Doug Smoot said, "He was a very noble person, and he’s very important in this community and state because of our pioneer heritage. It saddens me deeply." Although there are few clues, one theory is that some rowdy University of Utah basketball fans decided to make the statue the object of their celebration as the Utes beat the Cougars. The two schools have been rivals for many years. (Deseret News 1/29/03)

Investment Fraud Warned Against by LDS Church

With more pyramid and Ponzi schemes taking place in Utah per capita than practically any other state, LDS Church leaders are warning their members to be extremely cautious when handing their hard-earned money over to make questionable investments. In mid-January indictments were issued against seven people who stole almost $100 million from Utahans. Federal investigators bemoan the fact that many innocent and trusting Mormons have too often fallen prey to these deceitful predators. "One inescapable observation of the prosecutors and FBI agents investigating these frauds is the overwhelming number of victims whose first encounter with the fraudulent solicitor is at a church or religion event, specifically the (LDS Church)," a U.S. Attorney and FBI special agent said. They added, "Solicitors also take advantage of the fact that LDS Church leaders are generally reluctant to get involved in the financial affairs of their members." (Deseret News, 1/19/03)

Utah Bankruptcy Rate At Highest Level

Utah residents file more bankruptcies than any other state in the union, as there was a 14 percent increase from 2001 to 2002. More than 22,000 individuals and businesses filed requests in 2002 to abandon their debts. There has been no slowdown so far this year, as bankruptcies continue at a fast clip. In fact, experts predict that there will be still another increase in Utah’s bankruptcies in 2003. The last time the number of Utah bankruptcies went down was in 1994. The majority of the bankruptcies filed were Chapter 7 for individuals. Only one out of 10 who filed Chapter 13, which includes a repayment plan, actually complete their repayments. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/11/03)