24 people in Utah get homes from polygamous trust

The Salt Lake Tribune/November 21, 2014

By Nate Carlisle

The state-run polygamous trust has given homes to 24 people in Hildale.

The United Effort Plan announced in August plans to distribute the homes once the now-owners paid a fee based on the size of the home and acreage and overdue rent. The distribution was approved by 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg, who oversees the UEP.

Val Oveson, who on Friday was acting as a spokesman for the UEP, said the 24 people paid fees ranging from $5,000 to $26,000.

Oveson lauded the distribution, saying it is what was envisioned when Utah seized control of the UEP in 2005. 

"It’s a great step forward," Oveson said.

The new owners are free to do what they want with the property.

"If these people want to give it to a church, they can give it to a church," Oveson said.

The UEP still owns most of the homes and much of the land in Hildale and adjoining Colorado City, Ariz., the longtime home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The UEP consisted of assets donated by church members.

The state feared FLDS President Warren Jeffs was mismanaging the trust, putting people at risk of losing homes. Most recent figures have put trust assets at about $110 million.

The UEP has been able to sell a few pieces of property in the last nine years, but the sales have accelerated in 2014. That’s because the UEP resolved multiple lawsuits that had been delaying sales. The most important ruling may have come from the Utah Supreme Court, which approved a plan to subdivide property in Hildale.

That’s why only Hildale homes were distributed. In Colorado City, entire town blocks with multiple homes still sit as one parcel at the county recorder’s office.

The 24 people who received homes were cases that UEP fiduciary Bruce Wisan has called "no brainers." The people either built the home or had lived in it uninterrupted for years, and there were no other legitimate claims to the homes, Wisan said.

Distributing other homes may not prove so simple. For some homes there are competing claims among heirs or different families that were shuffled in and out of homes by Jeffs and his followers.

Oveson on Friday said the UEP is trying to identify more homes and beneficiaries that meet the criteria for distribution. The UEP wants to "get deeds in the hands of people," Oveson said.

The attorneys general in Utah and Arizona have filed a motion with Lindberg to make Oveson the new fiduciary, but Lindberg has not yet ruled.

Oveson is a former Utah lieutenant governor and Wisan’s former accounting firm partner.

Wisan on Friday submitted an affidavit in Taylorsville Justice Court to plead no contest in abeyance to a misdemeanor count of soliciting a prostitute. The charge will be dismissed in one year if Wisan commits no new crimes.

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