Utah judge authorizes sale of 400 acres of polygamous sect’s land in bidding process
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Tuesday August 25, 2009
Includes site earmarked for sect’s temple
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah judge has ordered the sale of a 400-acre parcel of land that is part of a communal property trust established by followers of jailed polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs.
In a ruling issued Monday, 3rd District Court Judge Denise Lindberg says a liquidity crisis of the United Effort Plan Trust makes the sale of Berry Knoll necessary. The land-rich but cash-poor trust has about $3 million in debts and no dependable stream of revenue.
The FLDS considered communal living a religious principle and formed the trust in 1942 for the shared benefit of all who keep the tenets of the faith.
[Bruce] Wisan has managed the trust since 2005, appointed after the trust was seized by the Utah courts amid allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs. Revisions to the trust during his tenure have converted the trust into a secular entity.
The FLDS view state-intervention in the trust as part of an attack on the religion.
Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) have long opposed the sale of Berry Knoll, as Joseph W. Musser, an early leader in the fundamentalist Mormon movement, prophesied in 1934 it would some day be a temple site.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the United Effort Plan Trust holds virtually all land in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, as well as in Bountiful, British Columbia (Canada).
It was created in 1942 to support the polygamous community’s effort to live in a religiously directed “Holy United Effort” and protect properties from seizures during crackdowns on polygamy.
Saddled with debt and mired in lawsuits, a property trust once controlled by a controversial polygamous sect increasingly looks like a boondoggle.
After four years, the state is more entangled than ever with the United Effort Plan Trust and there is no concrete proposal to end — or pay for — its court-ordered management.
The situation is a “mess,” Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff admits.
In 2005 when he pushed for the state takeover, Shurtleff envisioned a fiduciary would secure the property, protect its assets, get it operating properly and step aside.
“It always had to go back” to the community, Shurtleff said, a majority of which is made up of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “It’s in a position now I don’t know how that happens.”
[3rd District Judge Denise] Lindberg has attributed the need to sell property to the FLDS’ failure to pay a $100 monthly fee she instituted in January 2008, charged for the right to occupy a trust home.
The Trust’s debt currently stands at $2.5 million to $3 million — a sum owed primarily to Wisan and his attorneys.
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