FLDS trust overseer retires amid prostitution-related charge

Deseret News/August 12, 2014

By Emiley Morgan

Salt Lake City -- A man appointed by the state to manage a polygamist sect's trust has retired from the accounting firm he helped found after he was charged with patronizing a prostitute.

The class B misdemeanor was filed against Bruce Wisan, 68, last week in Taylorsville City Justice Court, compelling Wisan to retire and calling into question whether he will continue in his role as the special fiduciary overseeing the Fundamentalist LDS Church's United Effort Plan Trust.

Jeffrey Shields, attorney for the trust, said Wisan addressed the issue himself at two separate meetings in Colorado City, Arizona, over the weekend.

"He said, 'I may or may not resign, I may be asked to resign, I don't know,'" Shields recounted, before adding that the decision could likely come from a judge. "It's premature to predict."

The United Effort Plan was created by the FLDS Church in 1942 on the concept of a "united order," allowing followers to share in its assets. Utah's state courts seized control of the FLDS trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by church leaders.

Valued at more than $110 million, the trust holds most of the property and homes in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City. The church also holds property in Bountiful, British Columbia, and Eldorado, Texas.

Wisan, an accountant, was appointed by a judge to oversee the trust.

On Aug. 5, charges were filed stemming from an incident on March 20, 2013, alleging that Wisan was found in a room at the Homewood Suites, 5683 S. Redwood Road, with a prostitute. According to charging documents, officers were called about an alleged assault and were allowed into the room by a woman.

They observed a man running into a bathroom as they entered.

"The female stated that the male was her uncle," the charges state, noting that the man appeared to be pulling up his pants before running into the bathroom.

Officers ordered the man to exit the bathroom to verify he was not a suspect in the reported assault, and the man complied. The officers asked for identification and the man produced a driver's license, identifying him as Wisan. He said he was not the woman's relative but was a "close friend" who met the woman through a classified ad three weeks before.

"The defendant (Wisan) stated to officers that he was only helping the female out financially until she could get back on her feet," the charges state.

The woman initially denied that there was any sexual contact but said Wisan helped her financially. She later told police about some sexual activity, the charges state.

Wisan apparently also "admitted to showering with the female" but hesitated to say anything when asked about sexual activity. Wisan has been summoned to appear in court on Oct. 9.

A woman reached at the office of Wisan's attorney, Catherine Cleveland, said Cleveland had no comment. A call to Wisan was not immediately returned.

In a deposition taken in a separate case pending in 3rd District Court — a personal injury lawsuit filed by a former FLDS woman, Elissa Wall, who was married at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin — and filed as part of a memorandum, Wisan is asked by Wall's attorney about the prostitution incident and again reiterates he was there to help the woman. He is also asked whether Willie Jessop, a longtime spokesman for the sect who was eventually ousted, knew about the prostitute and whether he ever approached Wisan about the topic "when he wanted a sweetheart deal on his property."

Wisan denied that Jessop knew of the woman, approached him about the alleged incident or tried to use information about it to his advantage.

"Have you been approached by anybody else regarding UEP matters about this matter?" attorney Alan Mortensen asked.

"No," Wisan responded.

Monday, it was announced that Wisan was retiring from his position at Wisan, Smith, Racker & Prescott LLP, the accounting firm he helped found in 1985. Val Oveson, a partner and spokesman for the firm, said the criminal allegations played a part in the announcement.

"The decision to retire was motivated out of that," Oveson said. "It was a mutual decision in the end. We will miss him and his influence with building the clientele in the firm that we have, but it's a really unfortunate series of events that took place. It very much had a bearing on what happened."

He said Wisan was key to the firm's development, but that the firm is looking forward. Wisan's co-founder, Steven R. Smith, will take over as managing partner.

"We're committed to serving our clients and moving down the road with new leadership," Oveson said. "We've got nearly 70 people in the firm, and their livelihoods and interest are very prominent in our minds."

As Shields indicated, it is unclear what impact the criminal case will have on Wisan's role as a court-appointed fiduciary.

"It will be addressed, I just don't know when," Shields said. "He was appointed by the judge. … Ultimately the judge will decide whether he is replaced or not."

The Utah Attorney General's Office declined to comment Tuesday.

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