UEP towns near OK on subdividing land

Deseret Morning News/September 12, 2007

The utopian ideals of the Fundamentalist LDS Church's United Effort Plan Trust appear to be coming to an end.

The Colorado City, Ariz., Town Council has indicated it is willing to sign off on a subdivision plat, creating the potential for private property ownership in polygamist enclaves that once operated under the early Mormon concept of a "united order."

"It's a big thing," said Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed special fiduciary over the UEP Trust.

The Town Council said it must get approval from 22 different agencies but could approve the first of 17 plats within a month. Across the border in Hildale, Utah, as many as eight agencies must sign off on 19 subdivision plats.

Until recently, the UEP Trust was the financial arm of the FLDS Church. It controls homes, businesses and property in Hildale, Colorado City and in the Canadian community of Bountiful, in British Columbia. It's based on the concept of a "united order," created in 1831 by Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The FLDS Church is a breakaway sect.

Under a united order, people deeded everything to the church. Members, in turn, would receive a "stewardship." Brigham Young created cooperatives of goods and services in early Mormon communities.

In 2005, a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court took control of the UEP Trust, after allegations surfaced that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and other top church leaders had been fleecing it. The trust's assets are estimated at more than $110 million. Since Wisan was appointed by the judge to manage the trust, he's engaged in a legal tug-of-war with FLDS faithful in the communities trying to collect taxes, stop the disappearance of property and even gain cooperation from the FLDS-controlled governments.

Jeffs reportedly issued an edict to his faithful when it came to dealing with the UEP Trust: "Answer them nothing." The lack of cooperation got so bad, that at one point, the judge suggested disincorporating both communities.

Recently, Wisan said he has noticed more cooperation from the Hildale and Colorado City councils.

"I think it's the inevitability of the situation," Wisan told the Deseret Morning News on Tuesday. "I believe they understand the trust and the church are now separate. Permanently separate."

Wisan said the councils have been getting professional advice from outside counsel. Jeffs' hand in things also may have lessened.

"I don't think that Warren seems to be playing a role in this," Wisan said. "Just the fact that the two cities are acting so differently in handling the same situation. If there was a consistent instruction from leadership, they'd be in lockstep."

Jury selection is underway in St. George's 5th District Court in Jeffs' trial. The 51-year-old polygamist sect leader is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He is accused of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

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