Overseer of FLDS trust alleges a conspiracy
The fight over the proposed sale of property from a communal trust set up by a polygamous sect intensified Thursday as the trust overseer alleged there is a “conspiracy” to thwart his efforts.
In a new court document, Bruce R. Wisan refutes claims he is waging war against or seeking to destroy the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
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Instead, he accused sect members of ”a conspiracy of noncooperation, hostility and sabotage” against the United Effort Plan Trust that now includes filing “frivolous” lawsuits.
“The conspirators are seeking to starve the trust of the needed funds by preventing the trust from selling its property,” the court filing states.
Wisan is negotiating to sell a 711-acre parcel known as Berry Knoll Farms because the trust is out of money. Neither he nor his attorneys have been paid in over a year, leaving the trust with a debt of at least $1 million.
Wisan was appointed in 2005 to oversee the UEP Trust, which was set up more than 60 years ago and holds virtually all property in the twins towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where most residents belong to the FLDS church.
Three FLDS men filed a motion to block the sale, and asked 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg for a hearing so sect members could object to it. Lindberg set a hearing for Nov. 14 in St. George.
Attorney Jim Bradshaw, who represents the men, told Lindberg earlier this month the farmland has been an integral part of the community’s breadbasket and is considered sacred because of a prophesy a temple would some day be built there.
Bradshaw also said the proposed buyer, Kenneth Knudson, is a member of a rival polygamous group – Centennial Park – which split with the FLDS in the 1980s over a leadership dispute.
Wisan characterized the FLDS’ claims as a “pretext” for blocking the trust’s operation, with the intent of denying trust benefits to non-FLDS members and prohibiting FLDS members from obtaining control of their homes.
Nov. 14 hearing set over FLDS trust challenge
But his lawyers contend in new court documents that he is defending a war that is being waged against him, the courts and the United Effort Plan Trust itself. The war began in 2005 shortly after the trust was taken over by the courts when entire buildings were dismantled and whisked away.
“Indeed, throughout the entire tenure of this case, there has been a conspiracy of non-cooperation, hostility and sabotage against the Trust,” lawyer Jeffrey L. Shields wrote in papers filed this week in 3rd District Court.
Responding to a request to halt a land sale in the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., lawyers for the court-appointed special fiduciary accused the conspirators of trying to starve the cash-strapped trust and wrest it away from the courts.
“They detest the court’s religious neutrality requirement,” Shields wrote. “They seek a system whereby the Trust’s assets are controlled by a small elite group who are free to discriminate on the basis of religion. They seek the ability to evict all non-FLDS people, and to control the lives of ordinary FLDS people by controlling where they may live, and by evicting them if they fall out of favor in the future.”
FLDS members Willie Jessop, Dan Johnson and Merlin Jessop are trying to block the sale of Berry Knoll, 711 acres of farmland that they say is a sacred temple site for the FLDS. In court papers filed earlier this month, their attorney Jim Bradshaw argued that the land also provides a lot of food for the FLDS people.
“FLDS members have long feared that the special fiduciary has designs to destroy their church, and the audacious ‘in your face’ nature of this proposed sale is not lost on the FLDS people,” Bradshaw wrote. “It is difficult to understate the sense of contempt and outrage felt by members of the FLDS community over the proposed sale of Berry Knoll.”
Court-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan’s attorneys called it an “eleventh hour claim,” saying FLDS leadership rejected an earlier prophecy of the temple site and it was never brought up in depositions with church members.
The UEP Trust was taken over by the courts in 2005 amid allegations that FLDS leaders mismanaged it. The $110 million trust controls homes, businesses and property in Hildale, Colorado City and in Canada. Since then, the court has ordered reforms that do away with the communal nature of the trust and pave the way for private property ownership.