Polygamous church sues to reverse court judgment

Associated Press/August 30, 2008

Salt Lake City - Attorneys for a polygamous church sued a court-appointed accountant on Friday, seeking to reverse an $8.8 million judgment against its $110 million property trust.

In papers filed in 3rd District Court church attorney Rodney Parker claims the judgment awarded to United Effort Plan Trust overseer Bruce Wisan was based on "false, incomplete and misleading evidence."

The trust is the charitable arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A court gave Wisan guardianship of the trust in 2005 after state attorneys said church leaders had mismanaged its assets.

In 2007, Wisan sought the judgment and won by default.

Wisan told the court that $6.4 million in trust property had been conveyed for less than full value. He also said $2.2 million worth of property had been wrongfully taken from the trust. He sought roughly $1.7 million in legal and accounting fees and a $1.56 million credit as a portion of proceeds from a settlement agreement.

Friday's court filing claims the figures include inflated property values, property not held by the trust and other misinformation. It also alleges Wisan reversed statements made in 2005 about the fairness of some real estate deals, saying in 2007 the deals were unfair.

"The mechanism by which the judgment was obtained constituted fraud upon the court," the lawsuit states.

"That's very strong language and really so far, it's been pretty short on facts, but we'll let a judge decide that," Wisan told The Associated Press on Friday.

On a directive from its leader, Warren Jeffs, the FLDS church did not fight Wisan's initial actions related to the trust. But Parker said the sect's legal trouble in Texas this year, where authorities sought custody of FLDS children after allegations of abuse, combined with Wisan's actions feel like an attempt to dismantle the FLDS members' way of life.

"This just is really an implementation of the destruction of the church," Parker said Friday. "That's part of why the church had to push back."

Wisan said he had not seen the filing, but had expected it. He defended the judgment saying the court had approved it based on testimony and documentation from expert witnesses. He said he has nothing to hide and welcomes the scrutiny of any trust transactions.

Formed in the 1940s, the trust holds the property and other combined assets of church members, who believe their communal lifestyle is derived from religious scripture.

When the Utah courts seized the trust, a judge ousted church leaders who controlled it, claiming Jeffs and others had mismanaged its funds for personal use. At the time, Jeffs was on the run from criminal charges in Utah and Arizona. He was arrested in 2006 and last year a Utah jury found him guilty of two felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of 14-year-old follower.

He's currently in an Arizona jail awaiting two trials on similar charges and has been indicted by a Texas grand jury for the alleged sexual abuse of a minor.

The majority of UEP property is in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., the twin border towns where most FLDS members make their homes. The church also has property in Bountiful, British Columbia.

The FLDS practice polygamy in arranged marriages, believing the practice brings glorification in heaven. Its theological roots are tied to the early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Commonly known as the Mormons, the mainstream church abandoned polygamy as a condition of statehood in 1890.

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