The state’s takeover of a polygamous community’s property trust has simply replaced one feudal system with another, several residents told a Utah judge Wednesday.
In the first public criticism of the state action, those residents asked 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg to slow the sale of assets held by the United Effort Plan Trust – specifically, the Harker Farm in Beryl, Utah. They also asked the judge to reduce the trust’s legal fees and better explain how a newly instituted $100 a month assessment will be used.
The most surprising thing about the criticism? It came from ex-members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“We feel like we’re still under one man,” said Leroy Stubbs, with fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan replacing sect leader Warren S. Jeffs.
Lindberg objected to the comparison, saying “Mr. Wisan is not another Warren.” She said the trust’s legal expenses were largely the result of FLDS members’ refusal to work with the fiduciary.
Wisan said Wednesday the lack of cooperation continues. Numerous residents have not paid their 2007 property taxes. Just 36 of the 700 households have paid a new $100 a month fee for upgrades to water lines and other infrastructure.
He also expects few residents will sign an agreement identifying who lives in each home.
Lindberg also heard criticism of Wisan’s plan to sell the Harker Farm to two grandsons of Parley Harker, who started the dairy farm in the 1950s. That sale could bring $4 million in cash to the trust.
Patrick Pipkin, an ex-FLDS member, told Lindberg the farm was fraudulently transferred to the FLDS sect’s corporate entity. Pipkin said the subsequent sheriff’s sale that allowed Wisan to get possession of it overlooked stock interests held by two of Parley Harker’s sons, who have lived on and worked the farm for decades but are now about to lose out.
Ross Chatwin, another ex-FLDS member, also asked the judge to keep the farm in the UEP Trust. Stubbs suggested Parley Harker’s sons be given first right of refusal to buy the property.
Lindberg asked Wisan to reconsider the sale plan, but said the mens’ grievance should be directed at Jeffs and his sect.
“Frankly, my heart goes out to you guys for how badly you’ve been treated . . . not by the fiduciary, not by the court, but by people you trusted,” Lindberg said.