FLDS: Settlement offered in 4-year polygamous sect property dispute

The Salt Lake Tribune/June 16, 2009

A settlement proposal aimed at ending a four-year dispute over a property trust once controlled by a polygamous sect gives most holdings back to the sect, sets aside land for former members to claim, outlines use of a cemetery, park and library and calls for a new fiduciary to manage the trust.

But the deal is viewed as unacceptable by the current fiduciary and the Arizona Attorney General's Office and has kinks the sect doesn't like - which means its anybody's guess how a 3rd District judge will view it.

The Utah Attorney General's Office filed the proposal Monday, meeting a deadline set by Judge Denise Lindberg. Attorneys for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also filed a document outlining a "few" disagreements with that proposal.

One key disagreement: the FLDS say court-appointed fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan should not oversee the settlement because he is "not a neutral participant in the negotiations."

The trust, valued at over $111 million, holds most property in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, Colorado City, Ariz., and Bountiful, British Columbia. The state seized the trust in 2005 after its assets were targeted in various lawsuits and allegations were made that its assets were being pilfered by sect leader Warren S. Jeffs.

As required by Lindberg, the sect gave the AG's office a check for $192,600 for past-due occupancy fees on Monday.

Lindberg said that once settlement proposals were filed, a 15-day comment period would begin. She then plans to schedule a hearing. An attorney for Wisan told The Associated Press on Monday that the proposal doesn't meet the "legal and ethical" requirements of the changes made to the trust since it was placed under court oversight. Lindberg reformed the trust to make it entirely secular, removing the religious basis on which it was formed in 1942.

The state's proposal calls for 50 lots to be set aside for non-FLDS members in the Berry Knoll Farm area, just south of the Utah state line. That land would be used to satisfy claims of trust participants who do not have rights to specific homes but can show they contributed in other ways -- such as labor and monetary donations -- to increase the value of the communal property trust.

The FLDS would receive the rest of the Berry Knoll property, which they say holds historical and spiritual significance for the sect. The state's proposal also calls for the management of a cemetery in the twin towns to return to the FLDS; however, nonmembers would have "reasonable" access to visit graves as long as their "conduct and dress" complied with FLDS standards. It also says 200 grave sites would be set aside for non-FLDS members.

One point of disagreement between the AG's office and the FLDS concerns the composition of a housing panel that will distribute property to trust beneficiaries.

Both sides call for the panel of two FLDS, two non FLDS and some independent members but do not agree on requirements of those neutral parties. The sect also disagrees with the AG's description of who should qualify for a lot in the Berry Knoll area, arguing that limiting lots to non-FLDS members is inappropriate.

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