Judge orders $5.5 million polygamy trust payment

Associated Press/February 14, 2012

Salt Lake City -- A judge has given Utah's attorney general 90 days to pay off more than $5.5 million in debts incurred by managers of a communal land trust once run by jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Third District Judge Denise Lindberg set the deadline in an order issued Monday.

The money is owed to Salt lake City accountant Bruce Wisan, his attorneys and other firms hired to assist with management of the United Effort Plan Trust — the $114 million communal property trust of Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The trust holds the land and homes of FLDS members in the twin border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and in Bountiful, British Columbia.

No trust bills have been paid since 2008.

A message seeking comment from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was not immediately returned on Monday.

Utah seized control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs and other Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leaders. The Arizona Attorney General's Office backed the effort.

Wisan was to be paid from the sale of trust assets, but a string of pending lawsuits, including one pending before Denver's 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, has blocked any land sales.

A large portion of the debt is for legal fees incurred since 2008, when the FLDS first mounted a challenge to state control of the trust.

Other expenses include fees for accounting services, property management, engineering and platting a plan to subdivide Hildale and Colorado City, and public relations and legislative consulting work.

Lindberg's ruling deems most of the expenses as legitimate, although she rejected and reduced the amounts to be paid on some claims. Overall, Lindberg cut just over $65,000 from the more than $5.6 million Wisan initially requested.

Lindberg also found no justification for the attorney general's request to cut Wisan's bill by 25 percent — a reduction state attorneys said was justified by a lack of results obtained in the case.

"Any lack of progress in this case has not been due to any failing on (Wisan's) part. Instead, the difficulties in this case have arisen largely from circumstances beyond (Wisan's) control, including, but not limited to the, the concerted efforts of the FLDS community," to frustrate Wisan's administration, ignore the court's authority and inundate the trust with lawsuits.

It's not clear how the Utah Attorney General's Office might pay the debt.

The money may have to be appropriated from the Utah Legislature, which is currently in session and working on the budget for fiscal year 2012-2013. Senate budget chairman Lyle Hillyard, R -Logan, on Tuesday said he expected lawmakers to give Shurtleff the money because the payment is tied to a judge's order.

Hillyard said Shurtleff has assured lawmakers that the state will be reimbursed once trust lawsuits are resolved and assets can be sold.

The Attorney General's Office has also asked Lindberg to consider ordering Arizona officials to share the debt burden. In court papers, state attorneys said the judge could base each state's share of payments on the percentage of trust lands located in each state.

About 54 percent of the trust's properties are on the Arizona side of the border.

Arizona objects to the proposal in court papers.

Lindberg did not include a decision on that issue in her Monday ruling.

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