Reforms underway in FLDS towns

Deseret Morning News/September 1, 2007

Hildale — For the faithful followers of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs, this may be just another trial of their faith.

Life appears to be going on here, regardless of Jeffs' conviction on two counts of rape as an accomplice. As one drives through this polygamous border town, there is still signs of resistance to the changes being forced on them. Huge fences are still being erected, trying to keep out prying eyes. Women in the prairie dresses so common to this area scurry away from anyone who asks them questions.

Yet the communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are about to undergo more changes. Plans are underway to subdivide this community and create the first-ever private property ownership, doing away with the early-Mormon "united order" that has long dominated the twin cities.

In 2005, the courts took control of the $110 million United Effort Plan Trust, which controls homes, businesses and property here. The Utah Attorney General's Office alleged that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders had been fleecing its assets. The UEP Trust recently underwent a reform, and is now slowly doing away with the "united order" concept in favor of private property. The town councils for both communities are considering the first-ever subdivisions.

In a new report the size of a Salt Lake City-area phone book, the court-appointed special fiduciary of the UEP Trust detailed other changes underway here and across the border in Colorado City, as well as in the FLDS' Canadian enclave of Bountiful, British Columbia.

The latest financial report shows the UEP Trust has about $97,034 in its accounts. The bulk of the UEP's assets are in real estate.

"The fiduciary is investigating the possibility of selling certain trust property in order to secure additional funds which will be needed for the continuing administration of the trust," Bruce Wisan wrote in his report to the judge.

Property taxes continue to be paid, but in some cases it is a struggle. Some people are starting to move in to abandoned properties on UEP land.

The Utah Domestic Violence Prevention Program and the Safe Passage grant (to help women leave abusive situations in closed societies) recently put up a mobile home in Colorado City for a homeless single mother, Wisan wrote. The woman, who was part of the FLDS Church, is being allowed to stay there rent free.

Recently, Wisan said he was approached by four people who want to return to homes they were kicked out of. After getting no response from anyone living in the homes now, Wisan will allow the old tenants to move back in.

"In the event the present occupants refuse to vacate the residences, the fiduciary intends to pursue legal eviction proceedings against such occupants," he wrote.

Lawsuits and evidence

A series of lawsuits filed against the UEP Trust have been settled. They were filed by some of the so-called "Lost Boys," who were ousted from the FLDS communities, as well as a nephew of Jeffs who alleged he was sexually abused. The suits are still pending against the FLDS leader himself.

A lawsuit filed against the UEP by Elissa Wall is still pending. Recently, a proposed settlement calling for property and a $1 million fund to help other girls leave the FLDS communities was made public.

"If a settlement agreement is not finalized in the next few weeks, the fiduciary is considering filing a dispositive motion in the case," Wisan wrote.

Jeffs has so far not responded to any lawsuits filed against him, including one filed by Wisan himself. A judge ordered him to comply with a subpoena for documents related to the UEP, but Wisan said he has received nothing.

Wisan and his lawyers have managed to get their hands on documents seized when Jeffs was arrested outside Las Vegas in 2006. It took several court fights and a protective order between Jeffs' defense attorneys to get the copies, Wisan said.

"The fiduciary received approximately 1,580 pages of paper documents, which were photocopies of the paper documents seized at the time of Warren Jeffs' arrest," he wrote. "In addition, the fiduciary received, in electronic format, copies of numerous electronic documents which were seized at the time of the arrest."

That evidence is still being reviewed, Wisan said, but he said "it appears that there are many relevant documents which will be helpful in the Fiduciary's administering of the Trust."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said he would like to see some of the evidence seized by the FBI as part of his ongoing probe into Jeffs and the FLDS Church for financial crimes.

Buying the farm

The UEP Trust recently purchased an Iron County dairy farm with assets that lawyers said had been funneled into the FLDS Church. Wisan wrote that he had been told the founder of Harker Dairy had intended to donate the operation to the UEP Trust, but never did. Instead, it went to the FLDS Church and it was managed by some members of the Harker family who were Jeffs followers.

In his report, Wisan claims he bought the farm at the urging of some of Parley Harker's other sons and grandsons.

"Such sons and grandsons assert that the Harker property should be available for the benefit of other descendants of Parley Harker, rather than just for those select descendants who are favored by Warren Jeffs," Wisan wrote.

Rather than get into a long legal fight over what Parley Harker really intended to happen to the farm, Wisan bought it for the UEP Trust in an auction that collected on an $8.8 million civil judgment against the FLDS Church. Shortly after the change in ownership, the farm's manager, Joseph Harker, quit.

"In the course of human events it becomes necessary for two parties to separate due to conflicts of interest, and in protest against the motives and agenda of the new owner," Harker wrote in a letter of resignation filed with the report.

Because dairy cows need to be milked, Wisan had to scramble to get some people to step in and run the farm. Now, he says he may put the farm up for sale to generate more money for the UEP Trust.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.