A federal judge on Friday gave a polygamous sect control of its trust for the first time in six years, the Salt Lake Tribune reports:
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can manage its properties and businesses, valued at $110 million, but is prohibited from selling those properties or evicting any tenants. The FLDS also must honor existing contracts and leases.
The order, signed by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson, formalizes an agreement reached by the FLDS Church and the Utah Attorney General’s Office. The agreement, however, is contingent upon appeals the attorney general has made to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court could decide to return control of the trust to the state of Utah.
“I hope the clients aren’t running around being elated because maybe that would be a little bit premature,” said Rod Parker, an attorney for FLDS members.
While they wait to see if their court victory is reversed, church members must obtain from fiduciary Bruce Wisan financial information and other records demonstrating how the properties and businesses are being operated. A key issue, Parker said, will be what contracts are in place with the managers and employees who have been operating FLDS farms.
“Before we can really say that the FLDS have control, we need to see what [Wisan has] done,” Parker said.
Last February a federal judge ruled that a state takeover of the sect’s property trust six years ago was unconstitutional.
The United Effort Plan was created by the Fundamentalist LDS Church in 1942 on the concept of a “united order,” allowing followers to share in its assets.
Members of the polygamous sect consider communal living — a principle known as the Law of Consecration and the United Order — an integral part of their religion.
But while the UEP was meant to be a good thing the cult’s leader, Warren Jeffs, used the trust for his own purposes.
A scene in Sons of Perdition, a documentary about teens banished by Jeffs from the FLDS community, explains:
In 2005, Judge Denise Lindberg took control of the UEP Trust amid allegations that FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs and other top church leaders were fleecing it. [More on the battle between the State of Utah and the FLDS sect over the UEP trust]
FLDS attorney Rod Parker said February’s ruling was a “big victory for religious freedom.”
However, religious freedom is not what the FLDS is about. Cult leader Warren Jeffs has been ruling the sect with a heavy hand. Followers who have committed real or perceived offenses have been sent away from the community — while their wives and children were subsequently ‘assigned’ to other men. Women and children have been forced into marriages.