Ross Chatwin won a lifetime estate from an Arizona court after polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs tried to evict him from his home.
Now, he is prepared to battle eviction again — this time by the court-appointed fiduciary running the communal property trust set up by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Chatwin is among those balking at paying a $100 monthly fee assessed by fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan, who oversees the sect’s United Effort Plan Trust.
Just 35 of the community’s 750 households are paying the fee, which Wisan uses to cover administrative, legal and improvement costs. This week, he sent a letter telling residents to pay up or face eviction.
Wisan also is asking at least one resident of each home to sign an occupancy agreement or face the same consequence.
“I don’t like what is happening and I’m not going to pay the $100 and I’m not going to sign the occupancy agreement, either,” said Chatwin, who fought the FLDS’ attempts to evict him in 2004 from a home he built on trust land.
The UEP Trust holds virtually all property in the adjoining towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., home base of the FLDS church.
The sect established the trust nearly 70 years ago. In 2005, Utah authorities pushed for a court takeover of the trust after alleging Jeffs and other trustees mismanaged and failed to protect its assets.
Three years and more than $3 million later, Wisan has made few inroads with the FLDS, who have steadfastly rebuffed his efforts to privatize the trust.
Some dissidents who supported Wisan in the past, like Chatwin, are breaking ranks, too. Others are paying the fee, but wonder where the assessments will end and question the occupancy agreement.
“It is scary for us poor folks who don’t understand law,” said Marvin Wyler, Ross’ father. “There are a lot of things written in that thing that are scary, like if you don’t clean up your yard, you can be kicked off your property. It sounds kind of mean.”
Wisan is prepared to battle it out and points out he has the backing of 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg.
He has amended the occupancy agreement in hopes of getting the FLDS to sign it. Disclaimers say signing doesn’t signal approval of his actions or interest in becoming a private property owner.
“As a landlord, I would like to know who is living where,” he said.
But the softened wording may not help. The FLDS consider the property consecrated to their church and its religious purposes; they feel that private ownership would jeopardize their religious standing.
Meanwhile, Wisan’s attorney is drafting eviction notices for 20 residents – “some leaders, some big houses, some influential people” – to see what happens.
“I’ve got to put it to the test and I can’t back down, I don’t want to back down and I’m not going to back down,” Wisan said.