Jeffs, others told to pay $8.8 million

Deseret Morning News, Utah/March 2, 2007
By Ben Winslow

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and other top officials in the Fundamentalist LDS Church have been ordered to pay $8.8 million in a lawsuit accusing them of fleecing the church's financial empire.

Collecting the money will be the hard part.

"Now that we have a judgment, can we collect on that judgment?" Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed special fiduciary of the FLDS Church's United Effort Plan Trust, wondered outside of court.

A judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court on Thursday ordered Jeffs and other trustees of the UEP to pay up after they failed to respond to a lawsuit Wisan filed, alleging the original UEP trustees misappropriated property, engaged in misconduct and tried to interfere with his job.

In 2005, the courts took control of the UEP Trust amid allegations that Jeffs and others had been fleecing it. Judge Denise Lindberg recently reformed the trust and allowed Wisan to collect damages for attorney's fees, fiduciary fees, loss of property and equipment that disappeared in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Shortly after the trust was taken over, buildings and farm equipment began vanishing in the border towns, allegedly under the direction of FLDS leaders.

"I observed 50-plus men and a couple dozen young boys working on it," private investigator Sam Brower testified during a hearing Thursday. "They were quickly tearing the building apart."

Lawyers for the fiduciary put seven men on the witness stand to tell the judge how much the buildings, equipment and time were worth.

"It's clearly the actions of the trustees who caused this," said assistant Utah attorney general Tim Bodily.

The UEP Trust is land rich but cash poor. Its assets, estimated at about $110 million, are mostly tied up in land. Whatever cash the UEP had has disappeared, and so have the trustees.

"Assets have been shifted. That's the basis for the original complaint," said Jethro Barlow, an ex-FLDS member working for the fiduciary.

Wisan isn't going to give up.

"We have some ideas," he said, declining to elaborate.

The UEP Trust is also facing a series of lawsuits, including one by the so-called "Lost Boys," a group of teenagers kicked out of the FLDS Church, and one by " M.J.," the woman testifying against Jeffs in his criminal trial.

Jeffs, 51, is scheduled to go on trial next month in St. George on charges of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He is accused of forcing a 14-year-old girl into a marriage with her 19-year-old cousin.

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