Lawyers say new plan would ‘carve religion out of trust’
A judge in 3rd District Court is expected to announce her decision about how best to reform the UEP Trust during a court hearing this morning. Judge Denise Lindberg has been reviewing a proposed reform plan pushed by the man she appointed to oversee the UEP and its $110 million in assets.
“She can accept it, accept it with some modifications or reject it,” court-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan said Friday.
Lawyers for Wisan said they want to “carve the religion out of the trust.” The proposed reformation plan, obtained by the Deseret Morning News, shows it is walking a fine line between helping current and former members of the FLDS Church, who put their money and livelihood into the UEP — and sanctioning polygamy.
Judge Lindberg said the new UEP Trust cannot benefit illegal practices like polygamy. That could be interpreted to mean that anyone who practices polygamy can’t obtain benefits from the UEP Trust, created by the FLDS Church.
“The Trust’s real property would be a ‘polygamy-free zone’ and any practicing polygamist residing thereon would have to be evicted,” the documents state. It could put the trust in a tricky position because the judge also said UEP Trustees must be “neutral” and can’t administer assets on the basis of religious doctrine.
“In administering the Trust, the Board of Trustees shall not consider whether any Trust Participant participates in polygamy,” the proposed reformation document says. “In so doing, the Trustees will not be deemed to be benefiting, advocating or facilitating illegal practices.”
The UEP Trust would also be independent of religious doctrine. Although the FLDS Church can have a voice, the proposed plan said any input is non-binding.
The fiduciary is also suggesting privatizing the property in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., and creating a number of “spendthrift” trusts. It would place the UEP’s assets in control of a trustee until the recipients are judged able to control the money or property themselves.
Ex-FLDS Church member Richard Holm supports reformation, saying the UEP’s time has come — and gone.
“It’s outlived its usefulness,” Holm said from his home in Colorado City. “It’s become a sledgehammer to beat the hell out of innocent people.”
The UEP Trust was formally created in 1942 on the concept of a “united order.” Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, first received revelation concerning a “united order” in 1831, saying that all property and works were to be deeded to the church. In exchange, members received a “stewardship.” Brigham Young created cooperatives of goods and services in early LDS communities.
The FLDS Church is a breakaway religion. Its leader, Warren Jeffs, is a fugitive on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. He is charged in Utah and Arizona with sex crimes, accusing him of performing child bride marriages. Federal prosecutors have charged him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his arrest.
The UEP Trust collectively controls homes, businesses and property in Hildale and Colorado City. In 2005, Judge Lindberg took control of the trust amid allegations that Jeffs and some of his followers were fleecing it. She placed Wisan in charge with an advisory board of former FLDS members.
“I asked the board of advisors if they were prepared to be trustees,” Wisan said. “They indicated they did not want to become trustees at this time. The consensus was to wait.”
The UEP has been faced with many issues in the past year, including the payment of property taxes, which has been hindered by an edict from Warren Jeffs telling his followers not to pay.
After serving every home on UEP land with a notice to pay or face the possibility of eviction, the taxes were eventually paid.
Reform of the UEP Trust will be good for the people in the border towns, said Jeffrey L. Shields, a lawyer for the court-appointed special fiduciary.
“The way Warren’s run it, if you’re a good religious guy, you get benefits,” he said. “If you’re not, you get run out.”