ST. GEORGE - An auction outside the 5th District Courthouse on Tuesday took just two minutes to draw $2 million for a dairy farm owned by an embattled polygamous sect.
Inside the courthouse, sect leader Warren S. Jeffs was on trial on two counts of rape as an accomplice, related to a 2001 marriage he performed between a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin.
Harker Farm Inc. includes more than 600 acres on the Escalante Desert, near Beryl in Iron County. It was purchased by Bruce Wisan, the fiduciary appointed in 2005 to manage the United Effort Plan Trust.
The trust holds virtually all land and buildings in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the home base of Jeffs' sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
A judge placed the trust under Wisan's control after finding Jeffs and other trustees had failed to safeguard its assets.
Wisan forced the auction of the Harker property to satisfy an $8.8 million default judgment he won in March against the former trustees. He convinced a 3rd District judge they had harmed the trust by selling off property and ordering removal of buildings and farming equipment.
The farm, started in 1950 by Parley J. Harker, was later transferred to the FLDS church's Corporation of the Presiding Bishopric. That transfer allowed Wisan to seize it to satisfy the judgment.
Tuesday's auction was conducted by Jean Dickson, Washington County constable. It opened with a bid for $1,000 that quickly escalated to $1 million and seconds later ended with Wisan's $2 million bid.
He bid by phone through attorney Jeff Shields. The other two bidders were Kerry Holt, who owns a farm in the area, and another farmer who did not identify himself.
Shields said he does not know what will be done with the property. "We have to go out there and see exactly what we bought," he said.
Wisan said any revenue from the sale or operation of the farm will benefit the trust.
"With milk prices at an all time high, it [the farm] is a money maker now," Wisan said.
The sale includes land, structures and rights to 337 acre-feet of water. Jethro Barlow, an assistant to Wisan who was at the auction, said the property includes 18 houses lived in by FLDS members who work on the farm.
If the property is sold, residents may be able to apply for an occupancy agreement to live in trust homes in Hildale or Colorado City, Barlow and Wisan said.
Harker & Sons LLC, a company that operated the farm and owned equipment there, was auctioned off under the same judgment in June for $2.3 million. The company and the property could not be auctioned at the same time, Shields explained, because the court had to order a reissuance of the stock certificates for Harker Farm Inc. after former trustees did not produce the originals.
* Brooke Adams contributed to this story.