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FLDS: Judge orders fees paid from polygamist trust

AP, via the Las Vegas Sun, USA
June 28, 2006
Jennifer Dobner
www.lasvegassun.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Thursday June 29, 2006

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A judge on Wednesday ordered nearly $320,000 in fees be paid by the trust of a southern Utah polygamist sect to attorneys and an accountant court-ordered to manage its assets.

Accountant Bruce Wisan’s firm of Wisan, Smith, Racker & Prescott, will be paid $47,364.34 for services rendered to the United Effort Plan Trust since last summer when a state judge put the $100 million trust under his control.

Three legal firms will split a total of $273,448.51 for various services, with Callister, Nebeker & McCullough and attorney Jeff Shields, who is part of the firm, getting more than $257,000. Shields has conducted numerous depositions for the trust and drafted occupancy agreements and tax demand letters for those living in trust-owned properties.

The fees will be paid out of UEP Trust bank account that before Wednesday had a balance of $621,000, Wisan said.

Established in the 1940s, the United Effort Plan Trust holds the collective assets of the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Church members donated their homes, property or other assets to the trust to ensure the mutual benefit of the community.

In June 2005, 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg said church officials had mismanaged the trust and removed exiled church president Warren Jeffs and five other men as its managers.

State attorneys said trust assets had been sold for the personal benefit of church leaders, including keeping Jeffs in hiding. The 50-year-old church president is wanted in Utah and Arizona on felony charges for having arranged underage marriages between teenage girls and much older men. He is on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.

Lindberg, who issued the order on payment of fees, also is working on a proposal to reform the way the trust functions, including separating the religious aspects of the church from the assets of the trust.

Last fall, she also appointed a board of six men and women, including current and former members of the FLDS church, to advise Wisan.

As the trust’s guardian, Wisan has responsibility for identifying all trust assets, which include nearly all the property and homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where most of the church’s 10,000 members live. There is also some property in Bountiful, British Columbia, where several hundred FLDS members settled.

Wisan has conducted a survey and assessment of trust property, received court-approval to sell several trust properties and attempted to get more than $1.5 million in back taxes paid in Utah and Arizona.

Church members have mostly refused to recognize Wisan’s authority over the past year, including refusing to answer questions in depositions about how trust assets may have been used by church leaders.

But after Wisan sent letters threatening to evict residents of Hildale who failed to pay their property taxes, the bill was paid in full by June 20.

A similar letter is now being distributed in Colorado City, Shields said.

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