A judge on Thursday gave a special fiduciary more authority over a polygamous community’s trust, including the power to defend the fund against lawsuits and to collect money from residents to pay taxes on the group’s property on the Arizona Strip.
Third District Judge Denise Lindberg granted the increased power to manage the assets of the United Effort Plan (UEP) to Bruce Wisan, who has warned of the possibility of property sales and evictions of residents in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., if the trust is unable to cover an upcoming $1.2 million tax bill.
The judge also granted a request made by Wisan and the Utah and Arizona attorneys general to hold off on appointing new trustees to the UEP, an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Lindberg agreed that she needed more information on nominees before deciding who and how many to appoint.
The two dozen nominees have 20 days to provide more background information, including financial data and statements about why they want to serve as trustees (see box). Interested parties then will have time to file objections or statements of support for candidates.
A hearing is set for Oct. 25, when Lindberg could name three to nine trustees or forgo appointments and leave the trust’s management to Wisan.
Lindberg took the matter under advisement after after hearing arguments from lawyers representing various candidates and interested parties. Many alleged that most candidates have a conflict of interest that would affect their work. In a report filed Tuesday, Wisan said most of them are viewed by the FLDS faithful as dissident, apostate or anti-polygamy crusaders.
The nominees range from anti-polygamy activists, including Flora Jessop, to Winston Blackmore, a Canadian formerly associated with the FLDS. One nomination is for the ‘dream team’ of outgoing Dixie State College President Robert Huddleston, certified public accountant Gregory Kemp and physician Craig Booth; their lawyers argued they would provided neutral oversight.
Don Timpson, a nominee who is affiliated with the Centennial Park community near the twin cities, agreed with the judge’s decision.
“I think she did exactly what she had to do,” he said. “It’s a big trust and it’s better to do it right.”
But Carl Holm Jr., a nominee who left Colorado City years ago, said the disclosure requirements are just a way “to eliminate a lot of people from the board of trustees. I don’t know how they figure there are so many qualifications to represent the people down there. Somebody is going to get rich.”
Wisan is being paid $205 an hour for his work. His accounting firm and his lawyers also are being paid at their standard rates.
Nearly all the land, homes and buildings in the twin cities are held in the UEP trust set up by the FLDS, which considers plural marriage a central tenet of the faith. About 8,000 followers in the community are considered at-will tenants by the church, which thought of improvements such as new construction and remodels as donations. In the past, the church sought cash donations from members to pay tax bills.
Wisan has valued the Hildale-Colorado City property at $91.6 million. The FLDS also has established outposts in Texas and Colorado.
Wisan was appointed on May 27 to inventory and protect UEP property after Utah and Arizona officials became alarmed by the FLDS’ purported attempt to transfer two pieces of property without receiving any compensation for the trust.
Wisan filed suit in May to stop the transfers. His attorney, Jeffrey Shields, said Thursday he is close to finalizing a deal to sell the land, which could bring about $1.5 million to the trust.
Authorities also were alarmed by the failure of UEP trustees and FLDS President Warren Jeffs to defend against three lawsuits, two in state and one in federal court.
The defendants could lose by default, which means the plaintiffs could get damages that would deplete the trust and potentially cost residents their homes.
The trustees, including Jeffs, were stripped of their power in June. Jeffs, who also faces sex charges in Arizona, has not been seen publicly in the past year and a half and his whereabouts are unknown. He is wanted on state and federal warrants and there is a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.