SALT LAKE CITY An attorney for the Hildale City Council is claiming a process server may have violated Utah’s trespassing law when delivering tax demand letters to residents – a move that appears to be a push-back against authorities who have taken control of a trust that owns most of the city’s homes.
Beginning in May, residents of Hildale were hand-delivered tax notices by a local man working for Bruce Wisan, a court-appointed accountant in charge of the United Effort Plan Trust. The trust is the charitable arm of the polygamy-practicing Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which dominates the communities of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz.
In a letter sent to Wisan on June 20, Hildale’s contract attorney, Richard Chamberlain of Richfield, said people posting notices have been “a little careless and callous” in their manner.
Chamberlain wrote that in some instances he believes servers have violated state trespass laws by “interfering with the occupants’ right to privacy and the safe and secure occupancy of the premises.”
“I feel comfortable with what we’re doing and how we’ve been doing it,” he said Monday, adding that he didn’t think Chamberlain had complete information.
No legal action is threatened in the letter.
A telephone call from The Associated Press seeking comment from Chamberlain was not immediately returned Tuesday.
But Hildale Mayor David Zitting said the letter pertains to more than just Wisan’s tax letters. He said local police officers asked the council to have Chamberlain research trespass laws after a growing number of complaints from residents.
“They’ve had situations where people were just going onto other people’s property, over fences and everything, any way they could get there,” Zitting said. “It’s been steadily increasing.”
In addition to Wisan’s tax work, police and private investigators have served an increasing number of subpoenas and other legal papers in both towns over the past year as scrutiny of the church’s religious practices – particularly plural marriage – has increased.
Those activities and the increased presence of news media in the town has been upsetting to residents, Zitting said.
Wisan was awarded control of the trust in June 2005, after a judge ousted six FLDS leaders she said had mismanaged its assets. The trust has an estimated value of $100 million.
Members have remained loyal to church leader Warren Jeffs, who rules the church in absentia, and reportedly told followers not to cooperate with Wisan or other authorities.
Jeffs, 50, is a fugitive wanted in two states on criminal sexual misconduct charges related to polygamist marriages he allegedly arranged between teenage girls and older men.
But with more than $1.1 million in 2005 taxes past due in both Arizona and Utah, Wisan hired former church member and lifetime Hildale resident Isaac Wyler to deliver the letters, posting the notices on doors if residents refused to take them, or answer the door.
Chamberlain’s letter suggests it’s unnecessary to post on doors and suggests fence postings would serve the same purpose without invading the property. He says crossing a fence line or ignoring posted “no trespassing” signs is a violation of state law and that even a legal landlord can’t grant access to the property.
“I’m the landlord,” said Wisan. “So, I don’t think it’s unlawful.”
Wyler said that in almost every case, the notices have been refused, with residents running from him, yelling at him, and even calling the Colorado City town marshal’s office.
Wyler said he’s had at least one telephone call from a Colorado City dispatcher threatening him with arrest after a resident complaint about a notice.
A Colorado City police dispatcher contacted Tuesday referred a question about complaints to a supervisor and took a message from the AP. It was not returned.
Wyler said he was advised about trespassing law by Wisan’s attorneys and has also reviewed his practices with a Washington County, Utah, sheriff’s deputy who patrols the area. On some occasions, he said he has also videotaped the posting to create a record of his work. He’s now conducting similar postings in Colorado City.
Wisan said his attorney, Jeff Shields, had spoken with Chamberlain last week.
“After that (Chamberlain) seemed to soften his position a little,” Wisan said.