Wall of silence: Law officers in polygamous towns are mum on theft investigations
Third District Judge Denise Lindberg said that if the “rule of law is to mean anything,” the enforcement system needs to be responsive. Yet deputies with the Colorado City/Hildale Town Marshal’s Office refuse to assist investigations into alleged theft of assets from a charitable trust now under court supervision.
Lindberg appointed fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan to run the United Effort Plan Trust, set up by Mormon fundamentalists in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., in 1942. Most residents belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
During Thursday’s hearing, the judge issued a plea to FLDS members that they “meet us halfway” in helping to reform the property trust, which she said was put in jeopardy by the sect’s own religious leaders.
As for the towns’ deputies, an effort to force their cooperation is already under way.
On Thursday, an Arizona attorney hired by Wisan filed motions to compel Town Marshal Fred Barlow and deputies Sam Johnson and Jonathan Roundy to answer questions about a grain elevator that disappeared from Four Square Milling in January and other missing equipment and buildings.
The attorney also filed motions seeking testimony from interim Colorado City Mayor Terrill Johnson, a founder of Four Square Milling, and Joe Johnson, the mill’s manager. Both men refused to answer questions during a February deposition.
Bill Richards, an Arizona assistant attorney general, said both states hand-delivered letters to Barlow and a deputy in March that reviewed their duty to assist Wisan. How the deputies respond to the motions filed Thursday will be “telling,” he said. Wisan and others have urged the states to decertify the officers.
Lindberg also approved payment of $213,203 in fees and costs for work through January by Wisan’s firm and various attorneys, bringing the total paid out so far to $550,620.
At the judge’s request, Wisan reviewed efforts to get residents to sign occupancy agreements and agree to pay property taxes, acknowledging he has made little progress. Coming up with a workable occupancy agreement is a challenge, he said. So far, not even his own advisory board has been willing to sign off on various drafts.
One dilemma: How to word a section dealing with illegal activity given the fact that most residents are practicing polygamists.
Lindberg said she is concerned about the deterioration of the twin towns, given the loss of businesses and flow of resources elsewhere. “I won’t say they’re dying but they’re in significant disarray,” she said, adding that the problems were created by Jeffs and the UEP’s former trustees.
“We’re trying to remedy that for those who gave their labor and contributions,” she said.
Special Fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan will review new FLDS communities in Colorado, South Dakota, Texas, and Nevada to determine whether they were built with UEP assets. Jeff Shields, his attorney, said Thursday it appears they were not.
But 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg said she is concerned that UEP resources may have been diverted to the new outposts.
Attorney Roger Hoole told Lindberg he believes that is the case. Hoole is handing three different civil lawsuits brought against the UEP Trust, its former trustees and FLDS president Warren Jeffs. He said the new properties were bought in 2003 – before the court appointed Wisan to manage the trust – with monetary and labor contributions of FLDS members.
Wisan said he has been told that FLDS members in Bountiful, British Columbia, may be in the process of relocating to Saskatchewan.
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