The law is on their side: Brother-in-law told to beat it so family can move back in
COLORADO CITY, Ariz. – The swing set is still there, in the backyard of the sky-blue manufactured home, and Ezra Draper‘s children soon may be playing on it.
Nearly three years ago, a disillusioned Draper and his family left the home in the care of a friend – only to have it taken over in one of the many house shufflings that are characteristic of this polygamous community.
And there was this wrinkle: The person who moved in was Draper’s brother-in-law, Vaughn Chatwin, and he claimed to have backing of the trustees who then managed a charitable-property trust set up by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Now, through the efforts of a Mohave County investigator and a court-appointed fiduciary who now oversees the trust, Chatwin appears to have moved out and the Drapers will soon be able to call it home again. It is the second housing dispute fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan has addressed since February, as he reorganizes the trust.
“It’s exciting to see that those of us forcibly removed from our homes now have the ability to come back and reap the benefits of our labor,” Draper said.
There are still issues to be worked out: Draper and Wisan disagree on who owns the home. Wisan considers it part of the trust’s assets; Draper said he paid for it, has always paid taxes on it and made contributions to the FLDS church to cover property tax for the land it sits on.
Draper and his family moved to Idaho in June 2003 after they became disenchanted with FLDS president Warren Jeffs. Draper arranged for a family friend to stay in the home.
But a month later, his brother-in-law contacted the friend and told him to vacate the home or he’d be thrown out with the help of Colorado City/Hildale deputies. Chatwin then moved in.
Draper filed a complaint with Mohave County authorities in 2004 but got little response. Meanwhile, he continued to pay the property taxes on the manufactured home.
After reading news stories of other efforts to sort out occupancy disputes, Draper in January contacted Mohave County Special Investigator Gary Engels.
This time, he got some action.
As Engels prepared a criminal complaint, Wisan sent Chatwin a “notice to quit” the premises by Friday.
Engels visited the home on Thursday but it appeared vacant and no one answered the door. He left a business card tucked in the door, with the message to “Please call me.” Engels doesn’t expect to get a response.
Wisan expects to tackle more housing disputes in coming weeks. He plans to ask residents to sign occupancy agreements that indicate their willingness to pay taxes and work with him.
“Maybe we’ll get a change of heart, maybe we won’t,” Wisan said.
As for Draper, he’s looking forward to seeing his old place again.
“I can’t tell you what an emotional heartbreak that was for Leighann [his wife],” Draper said. “She can start healing now.”