Taxes paid on polygamist sect's Canada property

Associated Press/July 7, 2006
By Jennifer Dobner

Members of the Canadian branch of a Utah-based polygamist sect have paid off a tax bill on property in Bountiful, British Columbia, an accountant for a church trust said Friday.

About $37,000 in taxes on 300 acres of church property held in the United Effort Plan Trust were due July 4 and were paid on time, court-appointed accountant Bruce Wisan said. Members also paid personal property assessments on several mobile homes, leaving the trust with a $5,000 tax credit, he said.

Wisan has been steward of the UEP trust since June 2005, when a Utah judge ruled leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had mismanaged its assets. Members of the FLDS church established the trust in the 1940s to share their collective assets. In addition to property in Canada, the trust holds virtually all the property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where most church members live.

In the past, church members paid their taxes to the church, which set the amounts due, and then the church paid state or local authorities. Wisan has been working for months to get property taxes paid in Utah, Arizona and Canada, and had threatened to evict those who failed to pay. Church members initially resisted Wisan's demands, reportedly because exiled church leader Warren Jeffs issued an edict ordering the faith not to cooperate with Wisan or any other authorities.

But members in Hildale settled a Washington County, Utah, tax bill of about $295,000 in June, after Wisan had tax demand letters hand-delivered to residents' homes. Similar letters were sent to Canadian church members, although Wisan said properties there were assessed in three general categories of small-, medium- or large-dwelling size, instead of the more individualized assessments on properties in the U.S.

"This is the first time they've been individually assessed," he said. "I think (the Canadian payment) is just an extension of what happened in Hildale."

On the Arizona side of the border, residents of Colorado City owe Mohave County more than $1.1 million. As of mid-June, about $720,000 had been paid. Tax demand notices continue to be delivered to residents there, Wisan said. And a recent update from Mohave County sent to Wisan shows another $73,000 was paid last week.

Of 25 total parcels in Colorado City -- some of them so large they contain multiple large homes -- about half are paid either partially or in full, he said. "We're making progress on all fronts," Wisan said.

It remains unclear if members are paying their taxes in defiance of Jeffs or because church leaders have changed course and are cooperating in order to hold onto trust assets. Jeffs has run the church in absentia for nearly two years, after authorities in Utah and Arizona increased scrutiny of the church, whose members practice polygamy.

Over the past year, Jeffs has been charged in Utah and Arizona with sex crimes related to arranging plural marriages between underage girls and much older men. In May, he was named to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

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