Polygamist church trust rich in land, but cash-poor

KVOA, Tuscon/December 20, 2006

Salt Lake City -- A polygamist church trust is rich in land, but cash-poor and unable to pay an accountant or lawyers appointed to manage it.

The $110 million financial arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints holds 95 percent of the property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where most members live.

Land and homes in Bountiful, British Columbia are also part of the trust.

"The fiduciary didn't pay our last bill because he didn't have enough cash," attorney Jeffrey Shields said.

He estimates his law firm is owed about $500,000 for work done for accountant Bruce Wisan and the trust over the past six months. Wisan said his firm is owed about $100,000.

All other bills have been paid, however, and the trust isn't approaching bankruptcy, he said.

"Right now, I'm able to cover three to four months of ongoing bills," Wisan said. "I've talked to a bank about a possible bridge loan, but I'd like to not do that. One bank has already turned me down because it is such an unusual situation."

He said he hopes to sell some trust property to generate income.

Wisan was appointed guardian in 2005, after state attorneys said leaders of the FLDS church, including president Warren Jeffs, had mismanaged trust assets. A judge has removed them as managers.

Jeffs, 51, is in jail awaiting an April trial on charges of rape as an accomplice in Washington County.

His church has an estimated 10,000 members and practices polygamy and arranged marriages. The mainstream Mormon church renounced polygamy in 1890 and disavows any connection to the FLDS.

Judge Denise Lindberg recently signed off on a plan to allow trust beneficiaries to own their own homes, whether they are current or former FLDS members.

A hearing on paying legal fees is scheduled for Jan. 22.

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