Lawsuits, taxes, bills dominate UEP report

Deseret Morning News, January 30, 2008

Lawsuits, taxes, big bills - but some progress is being made in the Fundamentalist LDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

A new report filed in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court details the efforts of the court-appointed special fiduciary to reform the United Effort Plan Trust, the FLDS Church's $110 million real estate holdings arm. The Jan. 23 report is an update to the judge who is in charge of the UEP Trust. In 2005, the courts took control of the UEP Trust amid allegations that polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs and other top FLDS officials had mismanaged it.

The court-ordered reforms are changing the landscape of the border towns, but it is not coming easily. In his report, fiduciary Bruce Wisan detailed the numerous lawsuits the UEP Trust is involved in, the painful efforts to collect taxes and pay bills.

"Due to the difficulties of selling Trust property, the Trust is now experiencing a serious cash crunch," Wisan wrote. "As a result, the Trust has been unable to pay outstanding professional fees owing to the Fiduciary's accounting firm and the Fiduciary's Utah law firm."

Lawsuits dominate the 300-plus page report. The UEP Trust is being sued by Elissa Wall, the child bride who was the star witness in the criminal case against Warren Jeffs. There is also litigation over property in an FLDS enclave in Canada, against Hildale and Colorado City over subdividing property, and a lawsuit over a modular home.

Wisan said he has been able to collect on part of one lawsuit he won against the suspended trustees of the UEP, including an Iron County dairy farm linked to the FLDS Church.

"The Fiduciary does not believe that it is in the best interests of the Trust to own and operate the Harker Companies over the long term," Wisan wrote, adding that he planned to eventually sell the dairy.

Some lawsuits have been settled, including a lawsuit filed against the UEP Trust by the so-called "Lost Boys," teens ousted from the polygamous communities. Wisan has also managed to get some of the tape recordings of Jeffs' jailhouse conversations, after another legal battle.

"For many reasons, the Fiduciary believes that Warren Jeffs' jailhouse communications may be relevant to the Fiduciary's fulfillment of his court-appointed duties," he wrote.

Those loyal to Jeffs continue to resist efforts to collect taxes and now assess a $100 a month fee, which would generate $70,000 a month to help subdivide property.

"The Fiduciary anticipates that many Trust Participants will resist paying the assessment based upon instructions received from their leaders," he wrote the judge.

Wisan said he is also facing resistance from city leaders in trying to subdivide property. For decades, the UEP Trust operated based on the early-Mormon concept of a "united order," where everything belonged to the church and was doled out according to wants and needs.

"The City has added new and unreasonable requirements as conditions for obtaining City approval for the subdivision plats," he wrote.

For all the bleak news, Wisan said there were some positive things happening in the FLDS towns. People are signing occupancy agreements to move back to the communities. One person wants to reopen a radio station in Colorado City. He also received a request to reopen a long abandoned zoo in the communities.

"We would like to start out with some smaller, tamer animals for people to enjoy," Russell and Danielle Jessop wrote in an e-mail to Wisan and sent to the judge. "These animals include ducks, deer, reptiles, emus, ostrich, tortoise, armadillos, squirrels, possums, fancy birds, etc."

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