Six years ago, Virginia Hill was awarded $1.54 million in a lawsuit that claimed a network of conspirators -- including the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) and former and current members of the sect -- stole part of her personal fortune.
On Friday, the Utah Supreme Court sent the case back to a 4th District Court judge to consider whether Hill should be awarded even more.
The additional money could include punitive damages and a doubling of the AUB's $250,000 portion under a state law that permits an increase if a pattern of unlawful activity can be shown.
Drew Briney, AUB's appeals attorney, said the organization's amount could also double a second time under a portion of the Supreme Court ruling that says there were two trust deeds, not one, that assigned rights to property purchased with Hill's money to the AUB.
Briney disputes that there were two deeds and said the AUB received only $15,000 of Hill's money. He argued that $250,000 already is essentially an award of punitive damages and any increase would be unfair.
Clark Nielsen, a lawyer for Hill, said he's pleased with the decision.
According to court records, Hill moved to Utah from Michigan to seek a fresh start in life and worked with John Shugart, the leader of a small religious group, to buy the 831-acre Desert Inn Ranch about 25 miles west of St. George. Shugart passed along $1.5 million to buy the property and $40,000 for real estate agent services to two men, one a current AUB member and the other a former member, the documents say.
The two allegedly funneled the money to other individuals and companies instead. A portion of a check for $30,000 of Hill's money went to the AUB, which was characterized as tithing, according to court documents.
The money was never used to buy the ranch or repay Hill, the documents say. She filed suit in 1997 alleging, among other claims, civil conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. After a non-jury trial, Judge Donald Eyre in 2003 awarded Hill $1.54 million, plus interest, which was apportioned among various defendants. Owen Allred, the polygamous leader of the AUB who died in 2005, was ordered to pay $30,000 of the amount.
The judge declined to assess punitive damages and attorneys' fees, Both sides appealed, leading to the Supreme Court's reversal.