It’s a game of “musical houses.”
Or as Bruce Wisan puts it, “backwards checkers.”
The process has begun for people in the Fundamentalist LDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., to begin getting the deeds and titles to their homes on property belonging to the United Effort Plan Trust.
At its last meeting, the UEP’s board of advisers approved more than 40 petitions for benefits in these enclaves of the FLDS Church. Recording the deeds and handing over titles is still a couple of months away, but it is another sign of progress since the state took control of the UEP Trust, which controls homes, businesses and property in the polygamous border towns.
“I feel good about what we’re accomplishing,” said Wisan, the court-appointed special fiduciary of the UEP Trust.
The UEP was originally based on the early Mormon concept of a “united order,” where people would put everything into a common pot and the church would distribute it. The UEP Trust controls homes, businesses and property in the FLDS enclaves on the Utah-Arizona border and in British Columbia in Canada.
A judge in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court took control of the UEP Trust in 2005, amid allegations that polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs and other top FLDS officials had been fleecing it. The trust’s assets are estimated at more than $100 million. It was recently reformed, clearing the way for private property ownership.
Now the complicated work begins.
Under Jeffs, people were ousted from the FLDS Church, their families split up and some were moved from house to house. Improvements were made on some homes, and questions still exist over who belongs where.
Eviction letters were sent this past week to a couple of families within the FLDS Church, informing them that the homes they live in belong to others. The UEP Trust has offered to provide them with other homes, but Wisan said he has received no official reply.
“In one case, I’ve had some back-channel communication that indicates he’s not going to participate in the trust with me, but ‘the Lord will provide,”‘ Wisan said.
The FLDS faithful continue to refuse to participate in any of the reforms of the UEP Trust, which frustrates members of the board.
“How do we deal with all these homes of the devoutly faithful when they won’t deal with us?” said Carolyn Jessop, an ex-member of the FLDS Church. “That’s one of the hard-core issues we have to face.”
Wisan said for those FLDS members who refuse to participate in the reformed UEP Trust, it will operate as a “big homeowners association.” Jessop said they have to be careful not to hurt the silent majority of FLDS members who live on trust land.
“The biggest concern I have is not to revictimize the victims,” she said. “That they’re injured because we made a decision.”
Changes are under way in these towns. Wisan reports some cooperation from FLDS community leaders in subdividing the land. It’s been somewhat reluctant, he admits, but it is still some level of cooperation. Wisan hopes FLDS members will start to participate in the reformed UEP Trust.
“I expect when deeds start to be transferred and people start to have ownership of their homes and the FLDS start to hear about that, even though Warren’s said no,” he said, “that may start to open people’s eyes.”
Jeffs remains in the Purgatory Jail, where he is awaiting trial on charges of rape as an accomplice. He is accused of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
Authorities have said Jeffs still exercises authority in the towns, but others have been stepping in to handle day-to-day affairs in the church. Ex-members still living in Hildale and Colorado City have reported other FLDS leaders’ pictures going up in faithful members’ homes, next to Jeffs’.
Law enforcement sources have told the Deseret Morning News that Jeffs has made statements declaring himself not to be the prophet of the FLDS Church. However, faithful members may be unaware of that.
Jessop said it is possible the FLDS could find themselves questioning their faith.
“When you believe and it’s not what you’re told it is, pain turns to anger,” said Jessop. “The basic human emotions are real obvious, and I think the community will begin to fracture into smaller groups.”