Property Tax Demands Met In Polygamist Towns

KUTV (Salt Lake City)/May 18, 2006

Hildale/Colorado City -- In his effort to get the taxes paid on property owned by a polygamist church trust, Bruce Wisan so far is batting 1.000.

Over the past month, the state-appointed accountant heading the United Effort Plan trust has sent letters to residents demanding payment of taxes on large parcels or residences in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The border towns are the home base for most of the estimated 10,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

From the first batch of 14 letters, all of the taxes have been paid. Wisan said he expects the next set of 11 residents will meet a Monday payment deadline.

"It's a smart decision to pay their property taxes as opposed to being evicted,'' said Wisan, who has targeted those living in the largest homes and the perceived community leaders.

Last month at a town meeting in Hildale, Wisan said those who didn't pay would be sent eviction notices. As of Thursday, that hasn't been necessary.

"I think we're still about $700,000 or $800,000 down,'' he said. "I'm just happy that property taxes are being paid in a limited sense.''

Next week, Wisan said, he'll begin blanketing residents in both communities with letters.

In Arizona, Mohave County Deputy Treasurer Dave Chevalier said the total 2005 trust tax bill is roughly $1.1 million. Of that, about $360,000 has been paid, with $108,000 paid since early April when Wisan's first letters went out.

In Utah's Washington County, the trust's bill for 2005 approached $294,000, county accounting specialist Michelle Jacobson said. She said about $144,600 had been paid prior to Wisan's mailing. Since April 10, more than $43,400 has been paid and a balance of about $106,000 remains, she said.

Almost all the payments have been made in cash in both counties, and no interest and penalties have been applied, officials said.

The trust has an estimated value of $100 million, all of it in property, including homes, businesses and other buildings. Once controlled by FLDS church leaders, the trust was established in the 1940s with church members donating their assets as a means of ensuring prosperity for the whole community.

Last June, a Utah judge put Wisan in control after fugitive church leader Warren Jeffs, who is wanted in two states on felony charges for allegedly arranging underage marriages of girls and has been named to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, failed to answer lawsuits filed against him. State attorneys said Jeffs was liquidating trust assets to remain in hiding.

Jeffs, 50, who has not been seen publicly for nearly two years, has reportedly ordered that faithful church members not cooperate with Wisan.

Members initially obeyed, but in April, Warren Jeffs' brother Lyle Jeffs, whom Utah officials believe is the senior-most church leader still living in Hildale, paid his tax bill of nearly $16,000 on a 64-acre parcel that includes numerous homes and the community health center.

"I think it's still 'say nothing, do nothing','' Wisan said. "But as long as (members) don't have to deal with me and they can go directly to the county, it seems to be acceptable.''

On Wednesday, Isaac Wyler, a 40-year-old lifetime church member who said he was forced out in January 2004, delivered another 11 letters on Wisan's behalf.

Wyler had no trouble making his deliveries, but said both communities had a "ghost town'' feel.

"Very few people were on the streets, no work was hardly being done and nearly every commercial business in town was closed,'' said Wyler, who trains horses for a living.

"A sign on the (food) co-op door said they were closed for inventory. Who does inventory on a Wednesday in May with the lights off?'' he asked.

City offices in both Colorado City and Hildale were also locked up. And when Wyler called Colorado City police, he said he was told there were "no police officers in town.''

An increased patrol presence by sheriff's deputies from Mohave and Washington counties in the past week had the town rumor mill buzzing about arrests and a forced shut down of businesses by state, local or federal police, Wyler said.

Wyler suspects church faithful may have been ordered to stay at home to fast and pray for God to help their embattled church.

"They've been ordered to do that before,'' Wyler said. "If I had to guess, I would have to say they are probably praying for the destruction of the (Arizona-based federal) grand jury, the state attorneys general of Arizona and Utah, and probably even for the destruction of the states of Arizona and Utah.''

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