FLDS leaders sued over farm ownership

Suit names Warren Jeffs among defendants, could derail planned sale of 600-acre farm

The Salt Lake Tribune/March 31, 2008

Two brothers allege in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit they were cheated out of ownership interests in a rural Utah farm by leaders of a polygamous sect - a claim that could derail a planned sale of the farm by the United Effort Plan Trust.

On Friday, the UEP Trust countersued the men because of a lien they placed on the farm.

Sterling J. and William S. Harker are seeking more than $10 million in damages and stock ownership interest in what is known as the Harker Farm in Beryl.

The lawsuit, filed in 5th District Court in Cedar City, names the trust and its current and former trustees as defendants - including Warren Jeffs, whose status as leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is uncertain. Jeffs, convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice, is currently in an Arizona jail awaiting trial on similar allegations.

The UEP Trust, a property-holding company started decades ago by the sect, has been under court management since 2005. It is overseen by court-appointee Bruce R. Wisan.

The 600-plus acre farm was started in the 1950s by Parley J. Harker, the men's father and an FLDS member. The two Harkers, their father and several brothers operated the farm for years.

In 1997, the Harker family transferred the farm to the church based on assurances it would forever safeguard the property for their families.

Sterling Harker, according to the filing, expressed reservations about the transfer but was told it was "what the prophet wanted" - at the time, Rulon T. Jeffs.

The lawsuit claims that both Sterling and William Harker later were surreptitiously removed from the farm's corporate filings. Sterling Harker placed an initial lien on the farm in 2005 after a section of the property was sold off without his knowledge.

Last summer, a 3rd District judge allowed Wisan, acting for the trust, to foreclose on the farm to satisfy a judgement against the trust's former managers. Wisan successfully bid $4.3 million for the farm's operating company and its stock certificates.

Jeff Shields, Wisan's attorney, said he was unaware of the lien or the Harker brothers' claims when the farm was auctioned off at a sheriff's sale.

Wisan now plans to sell the farm for $5.5 million to two grandsons of Parley Harker who are not associated with the FLDS sect. The buyers, Hyrum and Jonathan Harker, also are defendants in the lawsuit.

Sterling and William Harker, who live in two of the 18 homes at the farm, appeared before 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg earlier this month to protest the sale. They've also filed a second lien on the property.

The judge told them their complaints should target the FLDS Church, not the trust.

"We have empathy for their situation, but we just don't feel that they have any legal case against the trust," Wisan said.

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