Disputes over fields, grain silos, water rights and homes in a polygamous community have gotten so bad, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, that an emergency hearing is needed as “quickly as possible.”
The request comes amid death threats and allegations that local police are refusing to enforce court-backed decisions made by the fiduciary overseeing virtually all property in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Arizona wants Utah’s 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg to hear a rundown of events that illustrate a “growing tension” over use of property held by the 68-year-old United Effort Plan Trust in the twin towns.
A majority of residents of the two towns are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Residents ran the communal property trust until 2005, when its assets were targeted by lawsuits and it was placed in state control.
Among the conflicts mentioned in Arizona’s report: A May 24 fight over a field during which Seth Cooke, a UEP Trust advisory board member, threatened to “get my .270 and come out here and start shooting people.”
Cooke made the comments to Helaman Barlow, a deputy with the Colorado City Marshal’s Office.
The board members, appointed by Lindberg, assist trust overseer Bruce R. Wisan in making property use decisions.
Cooke told Barlow he would “kill everybody in this [expletive] town” if his mother died and he were not allowed to attend her funeral in the sect’s meetinghouse.
After reviewing a recording of the exchange, Arizona authorities asked Cooke to resign from the board.
The United Effort Plan Trust controls homes and property in Hildale and Colorado City.
It was taken over by the courts in 2005 over allegations that Warren Jeffs and other leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints mismanaged it.
Arizona’s filing detailed a long list of claims that police and town leaders in Hildale and Colorado City were ignoring a judge’s orders over use of property. The police in the communities have been criticized in the past over perceived loyalties to FLDS leaders.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office also recently filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Cooke’s brother, alleging town officials discriminated against him by not providing him with utility hookups for his home.
The trust was created by the FLDS Church in 1942 on the concept of a “united order,” allowing followers to share in its assets.
Members of the sect have long held that 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg’s decision to reform the trust, which is valued at more than $110 million and holds most of the property in Hildale, Colorado City, Ariz. and Bountiful, British Columbia, was a violation of their First Amendment rights to practice their religion freely.
Lindberg appointed Wisan as the special fiduciary of the trust and later authorized the sale of Berry Knoll, a 438-acre parcel of land church members claim was consecrated for a temple, to repay the trust’s $3 million in debt.
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