FLDS seek to stop sale of temple site

Desert News/October 17, 2008

Fundamentalist LDS faithful sang about it in a hymn. The temple long expected Shall stand on Berry Knoll, By willing hearts erected, Who love Jehovah's will.

A swath of farmland on the Utah-Arizona border has become the subject of the latest legal war involving the polygamous sect. FLDS members Willie Jessop, Dan Johnson and Merlin Jessop are seeking to halt plans by the court-appointed special fiduciary of the United Effort Plan Trust to sell Berry Knoll.

"The Special Fiduciary seeks this court's permission to sell 711 acres of agricultural property, including a sacred and consecrated temple site," FLDS attorney Jim Bradshaw wrote in papers filed Friday in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court.

The people who live on UEP land now controlled by the courts believe that Bruce Wisan, the special fiduciary, intends to finance a "sociological and psychological war" against them by selling their own property, Bradshaw claims, to members of a breakaway sect in Centennial Park, Ariz.

The fiduciary and his attorneys have disputed many of the claims. Contacted by the Deseret News on Friday, Wisan's attorney Jeffrey L. Shields said they would respond at a court hearing to be scheduled next month in St. George.

"Let's wait to hear the evidence," Shields said. "There's a lot of allegations ... but I don't think there's any facts to support this."

The courts took control of the UEP Trust in 2005, amid allegations that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and other church officials had fleeced it. A judge appointed Wisan to manage the UEP, which has an estimated $110 million value in homes and property in Colorado City, Ariz., Hilldale, Utah and Canada.

For years, the FLDS were silent - refusing to deal with the fiduciary, respond to trust reforms or pay taxes. In the aftermath of the raid on the faith's ranch in Texas, members have started responding in court.

"While Texas has got our children, Wisan's trying to taking our property," Willie Jessop said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. Court documents state he has cattle and sheep grazing on Berry Knoll.

But years of silence appear to have frustrated everyone from lawyers to the judge overseeing the trust, who questioned if their recent challenges were "too little, too late." Shields has said any "war" was not started by the fiduciary, who is seeking to sell the property to help a trust that is deep in debt because of litigation and a long-standing lack of cooperation from FLDS members who live on UEP land.

"Three years and three million dollars later, the beneficiaries of this Trust appear to be facing the exact same scenario the Special Fiduciary was appointed to protect them from," Bradshaw wrote in his filing.

They accuse Wisan and his lawyers of billing the trust an average of $85,605 per month for legal and accounting costs and underselling Berry Knoll. Urging the judge to not approve the sale of the property, Bradshaw said no one benefits from ever-expanding litigation.

"The reality of the current situation is that there is no obvious exit strategy and no real end in sight," he wrote. "Before agreeing to this sale, this court should consider whether the court may be funding a course that will benefit only the retained professionals at the expense of the beneficiaries who may, at the end of the day, end up with nothing."

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