The state of Utah is actively looking for ways to divest itself from a property trust fund it seized from the polygamous FLDS church eight years ago.
We’ll show you
- what the United Effort Plan (UEP) property trust is
- why Utah seized control of the trust
- why the UEP has been the subject of ongoing legal battles, and
- why Utah is looking for exit strategies
United Effort Plan
The United Effort Plan (UEP) property trust was created by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1942 on the concept of a “united order,” allowing followers to share in its assets.
In 2005 Utah seized control of the UEP — at the time valued at more than $100 million — amid allegations by state attorneys that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and other leaders of the polygamous church mismanaged the fund.
In addition the state feared the property trust was put at risk when FLDS leader Warren Jeffs failed to respond to a lawsuit filed in 2004 by six boys who had been kicked out of the cult.
Cult leader Warren Jeffs used fund to manipulate followers
Former members of the church also have stated that Jeffs used the fund to manipulate and control his followers into obeying his edicts.
Most of the property and homes in the twin FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona belong to the UEP, which was managed by Jeffs.
Jeffs succeeded his father Rulon as president and prophet of the FLDS in 2002.
Unlike his father, Jeffs soon started to rule his followers with an iron fist, issuing increasingly bizarre edicts — which included forbidding members to talk to anyone outside the religion, even their family members
Those sent away were told to leave their homes, wives and children behind. Wives who stayed behind were assigned new husbands by Jeffs.
UEP subject of ongoing legal battles
Ever since the state of Utah took control of the United Effort Plan, the trust has been the subject of ongoing legal battles.
Among other things, FLDS followers maintain the court-ordered reorganization of the property trust violated their constitutional rights to religious freedom, and they have sued to reverse the changes or regain control of the trust.
Last November a federal appeals court ruled that control over the UEP remains with the state of Utah.
During all the legal wranglings state-appointed accountant Bruce Wisan and his employees were not paid because the trust’s assets remained tied up while the legal case was winding its way through the courts.
In addition, many FLDS members refused to pay taxes on their properties — in obedience to Warren Jeffs, who had told his followers to “answer them nothing” regarding the investigation into the trust’s operation.
On top of that there have been disagreements between Wisan and former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff about how or whether to distribute property and dissolve the trust.
In August 2011 a judge ordered the state of Utah to pay off $4.6 million in debt incurred by Wissan.
The Attorney General appealed that decision, arguing that Utah tax payers should not end up footing the bill.
But last April the Utah Supreme Court refused to block the judge’s order requiring the Attorney General’s Office to pay the bill — which by then had grown to more than $5.5 million (currently $5.7 million).
Last friday there was a court hearing court hearing concerning the state’s management of the United Effort Plan.
The Salt Lake Tribune‘s ‘polygamy bloggers’ say it looks like disputes remain:
The attached court brief from Wisan’s attorneys say while there is discussion in the Legislature about paying the money, lawmakers are “not willing to pay the judgement unless the Fiduciary agrees to a number of additional provisions that the Fiduciary believes violate his fiduciary duties and create an untenable conflict by conditioning payment on termination of the probate proceedings.”
Lawyers for the accountant appointed by the courts to oversee the UEP Trust presented their proposal, which includes:
- Appointing trustees to oversee the UEP.
- The fiduciary will not seek any post-judgment interest from the court battles.
- The fiduciary will not seek any more money beyond the $5.6 million already owed.
- The state would get a lien on UEP assets to recoup money.
“The devil’s in the details,” Judge Denise Lindberg told attorneys about any proposed settlement. She threatened that if they could not reach an amicable settlement, she could ultimately dissolve the UEP Trust.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune the case “inched toward resolution Friday with all sides appearing to favor returning control of the trust to the towns’ residents.” But “no commitments had been made and other options were on the table.”
A new hearing is scheduled for March 5. The Tribune says “at that time attorneys will present a new proposal. Lindberg will have the option of accepting, rejecting or modifying the proposal, after which it will be taken to the Utah Legislature.”
Willie Jessop, a former spokesman for Warren Jeffs who is no longer in the sect, praised Linberg after the hearing for trying to find a “delicate balance” that meets the needs of everyone involved in the case. Jessop said he favors giving control of the trust to community members but that any future trustees shouldn’t be loyal to Jeffs because they won’t put the interests of the community first. He also said he hopes Lindberg abandons any efforts to appoint board members.
“It’s got to either have people who are there to protect the people or there to protect Warren Jeffs,” Jessop said. “The judge has got to recognize that she can’t have it both ways.”
According to Jessop, there are community members who would look out for the interests of people both in and out of the church.
Despite being imprisoned, Jeffs still rules his followers with an iron fist — aided by the fact that they continue to believe he is a prophet sent by God.
The UEP thumbnail that accompanies this article is from a photo by Katorina