While many have wondered how a Mormon splinter sect financed its multimillion-dollar development near Eldorado, one man thinks he knows the answer.
Bruce Wisan, an officer for the sect's $100 million real estate trust, said he believes sect spiritual leader Warren Jeffs drained the trust to pay for the YFZ Ranch and improvements there now valued at $21 million altogether.
"Warren was converting trust assets into cash at fire-sale prices to get the cash to build up the community in Eldorado," Wisan said.
Rod Parker, an attorney who has acted as a spokesman for the sect, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Wisan, special trustee for the United Effort Plan Trust, has subpoenaed documents and other items seized this month in the YFZ Ranch raid. He said he hopes Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' records from the polygamist compound in Schleicher County will reveal assets to help satisfy an $8.8 million judgment for damages rendered about a year ago.
The judgment essentially ruled that the trust is entitled to recover expenses such as attorneys' fees from sect leaders associated with the trust, in Wisan's efforts to reform the trust.
The sect members live in a communal property situation, and the UEP Trust is the holding company that owns the property. "The people contributed real estate to the trust and then built houses and buildings on trust property," Wisan said.
The UEP Trust came under Wisan's control after litigation accusing Warren Jeffs and other church leaders of mismanaging the UEP Trust, possibly jeopardizing thousands of homes and businesses, and the land they're on. Authorities seized the items Wisan is interested in during a dayslong raid early this month at the compound.
Phone calls to authorities from a 16-year-old girl led to the FLDS raid. "Sarah," who has not yet been found, told authorities she was being abused by the 50-year-old man she was "married" to.
Subsequently, Child Protective Services officials took more than 400 children into custody and dozens of females, mostly mothers, left with them. CPS began sending the children to foster care Tuesday.
The FLDS practices a form of plural marriage in which the men take several 'spiritual wives' that are not intended to be officially recognized by the law. The sect split from the Mormon Church decades ago when the latter renounced polygamy.
Officials are going through a petition process to determine who is entitled to benefit from the UEP trust, Wisan said.
Wisan said he suspects imprisoned FLDS prophet Jeffs was draining the trust, which is owned by the sect membership, to fund the building and operation of the 1,700-acre compound in Schleicher County.
"He never told me that," said Wisan, a certified public accountant in Salt Lake City, "but that's where all the money seemed to be going."
Wisan was appointed to protect, preserve and manage trust properties for beneficiaries. The trust, despite its massive assets, is a rudimentary operation without even a checking account.
On his behalf, San Angelo attorney Samuel Allen submitted subpoenas to 51st District Attorney Stephen R. Lupton and Assistant District Attorney Allison Palmer on April 16 requesting the documents and items.
They have until 10 a.m. May 16 to comply.
The wide-ranging request includes "documents or tangible objects" relating to the temple on the ranch; the YFZ Ranch, Limited Liability Co., set up to buy the compound site; Wisan; the UEP Trust; and defendants named in a default judgment registered March 7, 2007, in a Salt Lake County district court; and those defendants' assets.
Defendants include Warren Jeffs, Truman I. Barlow, Leroy S. Jeffs, James K. Zitting, William E. Jessop - also known as William E. Timpson - the Corporation of the President of the FLDS, Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the FLDS and the FLDS.
Palmer said Tuesday she doesn't comment on an ongoing process.
The subpoena specifies that the documents and objects must be delivered to Allen's office.
The 1,700 acres of ranch and structures on it are valued at roughly $21 million, according to Schleicher County officials. The temple alone has a value of some $8 million.
Wisan said he hasn't really considered whether he wants to take possession of the ranch itself to help satisfy the judgment.
"Who would want to buy a temple in the middle of West Texas?" he said.
Taking possession of the compound would "cause me a lot of grief politically in the community," Wisan said. "And I'd just as soon obtain the judgment another way."
He has opted out of pursuing possession of a large meeting house in Colorado City, Ariz., he said.
"If I were to take that building (in Arizona), it would create huge amounts of ill will toward me and the trust, so I haven't even put that on the plate," Wisan said. "So I would feel the same way about Eldorado."
The FLDS has membership concentrated in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City - an area once known as Short Creek.
Besides being the object of civil lawsuits, Warren Jeffs is serving time for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Utah.
After being appointed a special trustee to protect trust holdings, Wisan sued Jeffs, the trustees and the other defendants listed above to recover damages for the trust, such as attorneys' fees. This led to the judgment in the trust's favor and against Jeffs and the other defendants.
What's requested in the subpoena from items authorities seized at the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado:
- All documents or objects owned by Warren Jeffs, imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that indicate a relationship between any defendant and the YFZ Ranch, Limited Liability Co.
- All documents or objects that mention or relate to: the United Effort Plan Trust; Bruce Wisan, court-appointed special trustee of the UEP Trust; possession or ownership of "The Temple" on the YFZ Ranch; any trustee of the UEP Trust; the funding used to acquire the YFZ Ranch; the organization, ownership, management or control of YFZ Ranch, LLC; assets of any defendant; assets of the UEP Trust.
- All documents or objects listed on an investigation evidence list attached to the "State's Motion to Transfer Seized Property" filed in 51st District Court of Schleicher County on April 10 if they mention or relate in any way to: any defendant, Wisan, the UEP Trust, any prior trustee of the UEP Trust or the temple on the YFZ Ranch.
- All documents or objects listed on the "Investigation Evidence List" attached to the motion to transfer seized property that mention or relate to: any defendant, Wisan, the UEP Trust, any prior trustee of the UEP Trust or the temple.
Named in the lawsuit as defendants and referred to in the subpoena:
- Warren Jeffs
- Truman I. Barlow
- Leroy Jeffs
- James K. Zitting
- William E. Jessop, also known as William E. Timpson
- Corporation of the President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
- Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the FLDS
- The FLDS