Disappearing equipment in Colorado City prompts probe

Arizona Republic/January 4, 2006

Salt Lake City -- A criminal investigation is under way in Colorado City, Ariz., after a grain elevator system thought to be part of a fundamentalist church trust was dismantled and moved over the New Year's holiday weekend.

Mohave County sheriff's investigator Gary Engels said he photographed work men using a crane to dismantle the equipment on Saturday at the Four Square Feed Store. The store sits on property held in the United Effort Plan trust, where members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have collectively held their property since the 1940s, he said.

In June, a 3rd District judge assumed control of the trust, removing the six church leaders serving as trustees and essentially freezing trust assets, including property, buildings and equipment.

The removal of the equipment could be a violation of that court order, Engels said.

"We think it's a trespass and a theft," said Jeff Shields, the attorney who represents Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed accountant now managing the trust. "There could be documents there that totally justify it, but they should not have done this without talking to (Wisan). We want to find out who did this and why."

Shields said Wisan learned of the dismantling work on Saturday and that the Colorado City police were called and asked to stop it. That seemed to work, but only temporarily, Shields said. By noon Monday, the equipment - pipes, augers and other materials - had disappeared from the property. The value of the equipment is unknown, Shields said.

Engels is now trying to determine who took the equipment and if they had a legal right to remove it. His findings will be turned over to the Mohave County attorney for screening of possible criminal charges.

On Wednesday, a man at Colorado City's Four Square Milling Grainery Tower contacted by the Associated Press declined to give his name and said he had no comment about the allegations.

Nearly all of the property in the border towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, where the 10,000-member church has been based since the early 19th century, is owned by the trust.

Last year, the Utah attorney general asked the court to intervene, telling a judge that some assets had been liquidated and that unanswered lawsuits filed against church leader Warren Jeffs left remaining assets vulnerable.

Since assuming oversight of the trust, Wisan has been working on an inventory of property and other trust holdings. The trust, which is said to include property in Arizona, Utah and British Columbia, has an estimated value of $100 million.

This is the third time since the court began its intervention in the trust operations that buildings or equipment on UEP property has been dismantled and removed.

An 18,000-square foot warehouse that once housed a log home construction business and other equipment disappeared from a Hildale property in June, as did a 34-by-130-square foot building adjacent to a Colorado City elementary school. Neither the buildings nor the equipment has been located.

No one is actively seeking to recover those assets because when they disappeared, the court had not appointed Wisan, Shields said. But a formal criminal complaint has been filed with Mohave County related to the grain equipment, he said.

"We think the rule of law should govern here," Shields said. "If there's a dispute, then let's sit down and work it out. But to say, 'we're just going to steal it in the middle of the night,' is not right."

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