Fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs hasn't been seen by outsiders for years, but it appears he's still calling the shots and pulling the strings on matters affecting the interests of thousands of people. That came out in court today as a judge approved a controversial real estate deal.
When legal clouds started building over the twin polygamist towns of Colorado City and Hildale, real estate became a key element in the drama. FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, controlled the United Effort Plan Trust, which owns most of the land and buildings. Now Jeffs is a fugitive and lawyers are battling in court over the trust.
Marlene Mohn, Attorney for Former Followers: "Warren Jeffs disappears and all of a sudden there's numerous little corporations."
Critics claim Jeffs needed cash so he created shell corporations run by his closest followers to sell off land.
Roger Hoole, Attorney for Former Members: "There was an effort to convey property out of the trust, liquidate it at a sale price, at a fair sale price."
Bruce Wisan, Court-Appointed Fiduciary: "We feel that it was a fraudulent transfer out of the united Effort Plan trust."
Bruce Wisan was appointed by the court to manage the trust. Now circumstances have forced him to deal with the same so-called shell companies. He needs cash himself to operate the trust so he negotiated a 2 million dollar deal to sell 436 acres.
But former Jeffs lawyer Rod Parker gets a piece of the deal. Jeff's loyalists insisted on a $425,000 payment to Parker's law firm, which they said the trust owed in unpaid legal fees.
Bruce Wisan: "Certainly it was part of the deal and it was non-negotiable and I believe that Warren Jeffs was behind that." Q: "But you've said you think the fees are probably legitimate?" A: "Oh I think the fees were legitimate."
The implied threat was, accept the package deal or Jeffs' people could tie up trust properties for years in expensive legal battles.
Bruce Wisan: "We did not have any other offers that were comparable that would have benefited the trust in the way that we're benefiting today."
Marlene Mohn: "One of my clients said, 'You know, Warren Jeffs isn't here but he's still controlling everything.' And that's our fear."
Wisan believes it was the best deal possible under the circumstances, and the judge approved it. But future battles are likely. The trust is valued at close to 100 million dollars.
Attorney Rod Parker refused comment on camera, but he said he the fact that the FLDS officials insisted on paying his legal fees shows they are honorable, decent people.