Colorado City -- When followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints settled the area called Short Creek, now Colorado City, they believed so much in the church that they helped it gain financial security by giving property, money and time to develop the area.
An association was formed called The United Effort Plan and a trust fund was set up to facilitate living toward the United Order. These trustees and officers signed a document on Nov. 9, 1942. It was filed and recorded in the Mohave County Courthouse in Kingman, Ariz., on Aug. 8, 1944. A portion of the declaration of the trust empowered trustees to execute all contracts, deeds, transfers and assignments and more, as deemed essential to the interest of the trust.
The UEP now owns thousands of acres in Hildale and Colorado City. Although those who gave property to the plan thought that the trust agreement would protect them, it hasn't always worked out that way for those evicted from homes they built and paid for on UEP property.
Jim Blackmore of LaVerkin was the first to lose a house built on UEP property.
"I owned a house in Colorado City. Trouble is, it was built on UEP property at the time," Blackmore said. "But no one ever dreamed you would be told to leave."
But that's what happened to Blackmore, the first of many.
After living in his home for about six years, the 1,400-square-foot home with a cellar and garage was completely finished. In about 1972, Blackmore's brother-in-law, Paul Marcus Jessop was the one to deliver the news.
"He came and told us to leave town. We could take our furniture but leave everything else," Blackmore said.
He and his wife did leave town. Outcasts from the FLDS church, Blackmore said no one in LaVerkin, where the family moved, would associate with him either.
"It was one hell of an experience but I'd hate to do it again," he said.
In a press conference Friday Ross Chatwin commented on the same issue. His home is on UEP property and he was told by the church he would have to leave.
Chatwin said after studying previous lawsuits, he realized he didn't have to leave if he didn't want to.
"Most important is the ruling that essentially says the UEP shall not remove people from its land unless these people are compensated fair value for their homes," he said.
Blackmore was not compensated for his home. Instead, he spent about $25,000 to fight the issue only to lose the battle and what little money he had.
Ben Bistline, an apostate who moved only last March to Cane Beds, Ariz., said he received about 10 percent of his home's value from the UEP. Once he moved out, the fire department burnt the home to the ground.
Chatwin said Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the FLDS church, is moving people around on UEP land. Many men have been told to move from a house they built to another house. Chatwin said by doing this, it may make it difficult for an individual to be defined as the owner of the home.
Chatwin said Jeffs has control of the UEP and the money it generates, and is demanding more money from people within the church.
Although residents are cash strapped after giving money to the church, tax records in Washington County indicate that property taxes due on UEP land are not past due and in Washington County, Hildale has the highest tax rate at .006133. In Mohave County, over 90 properties pop up under the UEP name.
In Washington County alone, 41 pieces of property are held under the UEP name or under the name of Fred Jessop, in care of the UEP. Market values range from $6,300 up to $4,400,667. And while the property taxes are paid on time, 50 percent of the customers of Twin City Power Company, which provides electrical power to the two cities, are paying their utility bills late.
Bistline said people who contributed property to the UEP thought they were considered benefactors but they are not.
Blackmore said he found out the hard way that the UEP trust was not looking out for his best interests.
"UEP is a nasty document in the sense they say trust. Trust for whom?" Blackmore said. "This has no security to anyone who didn't kiss some ass so to speak."