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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Rozita Swinton’s Bad Call

Police say her deception set off the FLDS raid. Prank or personality disorder?

By Arian Campo-Flores and Catharine Skipp NEWSWEEK
Published Jul 26, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Aug 4, 2008
When Flora Jessop answered her phone on the morning of March 30, a female caller spoke in a meek and frightened whisper. She said her name was Sarah, a child bride trapped on a polygamist compound in Texas.
She had apparently sought out Jessop because of the woman's work with abused kids as executive director of the Child Protection Project. Sarah claimed she had been assaulted by the older man she was assigned to marry and was often locked in a room with boarded windows. She described details, like names of elders, that only someone in the sect would likely know.

Around the same time, Sarah was also calling a shelter in San Angelo, Texas. After counselors there forwarded her abuse reports to law enforcement, authorities responded with a massive April 3 raid on the property where Sarah claimed to be held, the Yearning for Zion ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in Eldorado, Texas.

In the course of the operation, officials said they discovered such a troubling pattern of sexual and physical abuse that they forcibly removed more than 400 kids. (All of them have since been returned to their families by court order; last week sect leader Warren Jeffs and four of his followers were charged with sexually abusing underage girls.) But Sarah was never found.

The reason, according to law enforcement: Sarah was not the blond, blue-eyed teen bride she claimed to be, but rather a 33-year-old African-American woman living in Colorado Springs, Colo., named Rozita Swinton.

It's not the first time Swinton has been accused of duping authorities. She's been arrested for false reporting in two separate cases in Colorado, allegedly setting off frantic manhunts by repeatedly impersonating abuse victims. But even as she now faces possible charges in Texas, Swinton remains an elusive and enigmatic figure.

As one woman who cared for her believes, Swinton might well be a victim of sexual abuse who fractured into multiple personalities to cope with the trauma. Others who've known her view her as a masterful manipulator with an insatiable appetite for attention.

In a brief conversation with NEWSWEEK, Swinton only added to the mystery. "There are so many lies about me that have been published," she said without elaborating.

The daughter of a convicted murderer, Swinton had a turbulent upbringing in Nashville. By the age of 14, she had run away from home so many times that she became a ward of the state.

In her senior year in high school, Rozita accused her father, Clarence Swinton, of sexually abusing her—an allegation she would repeat throughout her life. Though he was never charged with abuse, a restraining order against him—which cites Rozita's allegations—was issued in 1992.

In a recent conversation with NEWSWEEK, Clarence described Rozita as "the world's greatest con artist," and denied her accusations. "If there is any victim, it is me," he said. (Rozita didn't address the abuse allegations with NEWSWEEK, and her attorneys did not return repeated calls for comment.)

for complete article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/148992

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