A Utah state judge on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction to keep a stranglehold over the assets of a Colorado City polygamist sect, a decision that drew strong praise from Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.
Two temporary restraining orders had previously frozen estimated assets of more than $100 million from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The FLDS is not affiliated with the mainstream Mormon Church.
“This really shifts the burden to (FLDS) prophet Warren Jeffs and his folks to show that they have been responsible trustees, and I don’t think that’s a burden they can carry,” Goddard said.
Last month, a Utah judge froze the funds after determining he had sufficient evidence that trustees of the United Effort Plan trust, which holds almost all the sect’s assets, were selling property to church insiders for less than market value. The trust is supposed to be shared among 6,000 members.
Goddard said Thursday’s decision ensures that an independent trustee will remain in place and “all the assets of the trust will receive public viewing.”
All six members of the trust, which includes Jeffs and his brother, LeRoy Jeffs, are required to attend another Salt Lake City court hearing Wednesday if they want to register complaints about being removed as trustees. They have been accused of liquidating assets even while the temporary restraining orders were in place.
But the trustees have not appeared at prior court hearings, and Warren Jeffs was indicted by a Mohave County grand jury last week on sexual-misconduct charges, accused of marrying off a 16-year-old girl to a 28-year-old married member of the polygamist sect. He also is being sought in Utah to answer two civil suits that accuse him of sexual impropriety.
The trust owns virtually all the land and property of an estimated 6,000 church members in Colorado City and Hildale, Utah. It also has diversified into small manufacturing in the area and is believed to have invested in other projects outside the region.
Jeffs and some of his most devout followers purchased land in western Texas near the town of Eldorado last year and recently completed a large structure believed to be a religious temple on the land.
Utah Assistant Attorney General Tim Bodily said he presented evidence during Thursday’s court hearing of the trust transferring title to several parcels of land in the Hildale area to others during the past year. One of the titles was transferred to a Nevada holding company, Bodily said.