Leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) have made partial payments toward their past-due property taxes owed on the sect’s state-controlled property trust.
The Salt Lake Tribune says about $930,000 was paid to Arizona county treasurers. In doing so they avoided possible evictions of sect members.
“I am encouraged by the partial payment of the property taxes, and hopeful the remaining outstanding balance will be paid as well,” said court-appointed trust administrator Bruce Wisan.
The United Effort Plan (UEP) property trust was created by the FLDS in 1942 on the concept of a “united order,” allowing followers to share in its assets.
Valued at more than $114 million, the trust holds most of the property and homes in the twin FLDS communities located in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Utah courts seized control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations by state attorneys that Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders had mismanaged its assets. Ever since, sect members — particularly, but not solely, those who remain loyal to Jeffs — have been fighting the state’s control of the trust, refusing to cooperate with the state-appointed trustee.
The sect’s members view the court-ordered reorganization of the property trust as a violation of their constitutional rights. In an October, 2008 lawsuit they argue that changes to the United Effort Plan Trust since the court takeover in 2005 have secularized it, violating their religious freedoms.
Numerous residents, current members of the FLDS, have refused to pay their property taxes. Court papers show tax delinquencies have grown steadily since 2008, totaling $2.2 million before the recent partial payments were made.
A Utah judge last December ruled that Wisan could evict residents from their homes if they had not made payment arrangements by the end of January.
The Salt Lake Tribune says that
[a]fter announcing his eviction plan, Wisan got his first communication from FLDS leaders in six years: a two-sentence letter dated Jan. 20 stating the FLDS had established a fund to get the taxes current, but that they would be paid directly to the county assessors.
FLDS attorney Rod Parker said paying the county governments is fair, since in the past sect leaders have given Wisan money they meant for taxes but Wisan instead spent other trust expenses.