Attorney Tries to Wrest Trust From Church

Associated Press/May 26, 2005
By Jennifer Dobner

Salt Lake City -- Saying he suspects mismanagment, Utah's attorney general asked a court Thursday to freeze the assets of a trust fund of a polygamous sect and replace its top leaders with an independent third party. The state is seeking the immediate suspension of church president Warren Jeffs' authority, along with that of five other trustees, over the trust fund for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The trust, called the United Effort Plan, controls church property and assets, including church members' homes and land. It has been estimated to contain as much as $100 million, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said. Shurtleff said the move is necessary because there is evidence trustees have recently moved to divest some trust assets and are not acting in the best interests of all church members.

"In stepping in today, we are protecting members of the FLDS church," Shurtleff said. "We think it's very clear, and we think the court will see, that (Jeffs) has breached his fiduciary duties."

A hearing was scheduled Friday in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City. It was not known who would represent the church in court. Attorney Rod Parker, who has represented the church in the past _ and does not expect to represent them in this case _ said he had not seen the court filing, but said Shurtleff's actions do not respect the religious roots of the trust.

"A component of the trust is to respect the religious purpose of the trust," said Parker. "The trust is very clear as far as how it is to be managed and what people can expect from it."

The FLDS church traces its roots to Joseph Smith, founder of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1890, the Mormon church officially abolished plural marriage and members who advocate it are excommunicated. The majority of 10,000 residents in Hildale and adjoining Colorado City, Ariz., belong to the FLDS church.

Jeffs has not been seen in either location for more than a year, and is thought to be on a 2,000-acre ranch near Eldorado, Texas, where he reportedly plans to move select members of the church.

Some ousted church members believe Jeffs is draining the church's trust in order to fund construction of the Texas compound and fear he will evict those who remain behind from their homes.

The attorney general made an effort to replace UEP trustees in February in a different case, but the courts said he lacked jurisdiction.

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