FLDS: Trust guardian seeking information about family farm

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A southwestern Utah farming family with suspected connections to the fugitive leader of a polygamist church has been subpoenaed for questioning about whether their companies are part of a multimillion dollar church trust now in state control.

Mary Harker said she accepted subpoenas for herself, husband Stephen F. Harker and three family businesses – Harker Farms, Harker & Sons, Inc., and JHD Potatoes – at her home in Beryl last week.

Sterling Harker, one of Stephen Harker’s brothers, also confirmed Wednesday that he was served a subpoena.

The businesses could be – or might have been – part of the United Effort Plan Trust, the charitable arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said Jeff Shields, the attorney for court-ordered trust accountant Bruce Wisan.

The trust holds the collective property, homes and businesses of the FLDS, which has most of its members living Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Since June 2005, Wisan has been trying to catalog trust assets and ensure none have been sold, given away or hidden to protect the church’s exiled leader Warren Jeffs, who is wanted on felony criminal charges in Arizona and Utah.

Jeffs, 50, has been hiding from authorities for about two years, disappearing just after Arizona authorities charged him with conspiracy in the arrangement of marriages between underage girls and older men. Named to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list in May, Jeffs is believed to have used millions in trust assets to stay on the lam – money Wisan and Shields say belongs to church members, who are the trust’s beneficiaries.

‘‘Everybody down in Hildale and Colorado City says Harker Farms is in the trust,” Shields said. ‘‘Legally, should it have been? Has there been some diversion of funds? I don’t know. That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

Shields will ask about a grain elevator, industrial equipment and several buildings that disappeared from UEP property in Hildale and Colorado City during the past year.

‘‘We have very good reason to believe some of the trust equipment that disappeared may have ended up” at Harker Farms, Wisan said.

Shields said he obtained subpoenas for 10 individuals and entities, although as of Wednesday, not all had been served. Depositions are set for July 5-7 in Cedar City, he said.

In addition to the Harkers and their companies, which are all in Beryl, about 100 miles northwest of Hildale, subpoenas have also been issued for two more of Stephen Harker’s brothers, Joseph Harker and Benjamin Harker, neither of whom could be reached for comment by The Associated Press.

Shields said information is also being sought about Atlanta Farms, a Harker-owned business for which Joseph Harker is listed with the state of Utah as the registered agent.

Mary Harker said she was unaware that Shields and Wisan believe the family businesses have connections to the FLDS church and the UEP trust.

‘‘That’s interesting,” she said, adding that she didn’t anticipate any problems related to the depositions.

‘‘But I really think it would be in our best interests, until this is through, to refrain from making any more comments,” she said.

She also declined to say whether the family is connected to the church.

The Harkers have long been prominent members of the FLDS community. Deceased patriarch Parley Harker was a counselor to former FLDS president Rulon Jeffs, son Sterling Harker said.

Sterling Harker said he believed his father, who died in January 1998, had deeded the family farms to the trust, but that he was unaware of any legal paperwork to prove it.

‘‘That was his desire, that’s what he always taught his children,” said Sterling Harker, who plans to show up for the July depositions.

Sterling Harker also said he has been removed – by his brother Stephen Harker – from any leadership roles in the family businesses, although he continues to work at Harker Brothers Dairy.

‘‘He said I asked too many questions,” Sterling Harker said.

No longer a member of the FLDS church, Sterling Harker said he is unclear about Stephen Harker’s relationship to the church or to Warren Jeffs.

But he said he believes some money from the family farms may have been given to the trust because balance sheets for the farms in recent years show significant losses, where previously the operations had been profitable.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via Mohave Daily News, USA
June 21, 2006

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday June 22, 2006.
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