Division over FLDS land grows wider

KSL 5 TV News, Utah/July 1, 2009

Salt Lake City - The division over land controlled by the real estate holdings arm of a southern Utah-based polygamous church appears to be growing wider.

In new court documents filed late Tuesday in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court and obtained by KSL NewsRadio, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints appear to support the Utah Attorney General's proposed settlement to end the legal war over the United Effort Plan Trust. But the Arizona Attorney General and the court-appointed special fiduciary for the trust vehemently oppose it.

"The Utah Attorney General has come to recognize that the property held in the reformed trust is the manifestation of a group of religious believers the FLDS Church's practice of the law of consecration which cannot and should not be governed by a state act or ostensibly guided solely by secular principles," FLDS attorney Kenneth Okazaki wrote in court papers.

In their filing, the FLDS support an idea pushed by the Utah Attorney General's Office to carve out an area in Colorado City, Ariz., for non-FLDS members to live.

"Some have complained that the property set aside for such claims is not checkerboarded throughout the community," Okazaki wrote. "This was done because all lots within Hildale and Colorado City have previously been allocated by the FLDS bishops, and many contain improvements, although they do not yet have residences constructed on them."

The attorney general's proposal also calls for the town cemetery to be returned to the FLDS with non-members having access to visit graves if they behave in a manner consistent with FLDS standards for conduct and dress. A Colorado City park would also be administered by an FLDS bishop.

FLDS members compared Cottonwood Park to the LDS Church-owned Main Street Plaza in Salt Lake City -- "a welcoming public place subject to church standards." (The FLDS Church is a breakaway sect of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

The UEP Trust controls homes and property in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. It was taken over by the courts in 2005 over allegations that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and others mismanaged it, including defaulting on a series of lawsuits filed against the UEP. Answering that, Okazaki wrote that the general membership of the FLDS should not be held responsible for those problems.

Third District Court Judge Denise Lindberg appointed a fiduciary, Bruce Wisan, to manage the trust, with its $100 million in estimated assets.

For years, the FLDS were relatively silent as the courts instituted reforms that did away with the communal property nature of the trust in favor of private property ownership. After the deep-in-debt fiduciary sought to sell land to pay bills, including farmland the FLDS claim was prophesied to be a holy temple site, some members sued - arguing that the reforms violated their First Amendment right to consecrate their property to their faith.

In his own filing, Wisan's attorneys argue that the FLDS have done nothing but attempted to "sabotage the operations of the Trust."

"Such treatment of the Court and Fiduciary appears to be based upon instructions received from Warren Jeffs," fiduciary attorney Jeffrey L. Shields wrote in a filing obtained by KSL NewsRadio late Tuesday, citing dictations made by Jeffs and seized by law enforcement in last year's raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch.

"We must continue to answer them nothing and not give into their proposals and ways," Jeffs allegedly said. "May the Lord guide me that I will not compromise in the slightest degree, knowing His will is the United Effort Plan Trust is rejected of God and is not the gathering place; and the people must qualify to come to the lands of refuge, or else be rejected."

In his filing, Wisan argues that the trust should be administered according to the court's decisions -- claiming that FLDS members have consistently refused to recognize the court's authority and its intent to fashion a reformed trust in a non-religious and neutral way.

"Those who have acted in good faith in accordance with the rule of law, should not be punished. Similarly, those who have acted contrary to the law should not be rewarded for such conduct," Shields wrote.

The fiduciary criticized the Utah Attorney General's proposal as "one-sided" and questioned who has the authority to speak for the FLDS Church. Jeffs, 52, is incarcerated after being convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is facing similar charges in Arizona. Texas authorities have also indicted him on criminal charges stemming from the YFZ raid.

In its own filing, the Arizona Attorney General's Office expressed concerns about Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's settlement proposal, as well as a similar one put forth by FLDS members, saying that it divides property strictly along religious lines and hands over arguably public areas to the FLDS Church.

"Moreover, both proposals also call for the court to approve a settlement that not only provides for the unconditional support of and reliance upon the FLDS Church but forces religious segregation in the community," assistant Arizona Attorney General William Richards wrote.

A judge will ultimately rule on whether or not to accept the proposed settlement offers.

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