Judge orders Utah to pay $4.6M of polygamous sect’s land trust debts

A judge has ordered the state of Utah to pay off $4.6 million in debt incurred by an accountant tasked with managing a land trust once run by jailed polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs.

The Associated Press reports

Accountant Bruce Wisan sought payment of the United Effort Plan Trust debts from the courts in June. The debt is for expenses incurred since those working for the trust were last paid in 2008.

The money is owed to lawyers, Wisan’s own Salt Lake City accounting firm, an engineering and surveying firm, a public relations firm, and others hired for trust-related business. Wisan alone is owed more than $1 million.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office has fought the request, but 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg said in a court ruling issued Monday that the state is best positioned to cover the debts, which could be repaid later from trust assets. Lindberg noted that state trust laws allows for payment of debt by another party when “justice and equity” require it. […]

Formed in the 1940s, the trust holds more than $100 million in property — mostly the land and homes members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — but no cash. The property is in Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, British Columbia.

The Utah courts seized control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations by state attorneys that Jeffs and other faith leaders had mismanaged its assets. […]

Wisan was court-appointed to manage the trust and was to be paid from trust assets. The FLDS have balked at his management and have mostly refused to pay court-ordered monthly occupancy fees for living in their homes. Without cash, Wisan has proposed selling off trust land, but the sales have been blocked by state and federal court lawsuits.

A settlement agreement negotiated by the attorney general’s office and proposed in 2009 that would have had the FLDS assume the debt and regain control of the trust was rejected by Lindberg.

In her ruling, Lindberg contended that in recent years, Utah’s attorney general has “substantially altered” the state’s position on the court’s administration of the trust and has acted in ways that undermine Wisan, despite nominating him for the job of managing the trust.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday August 3, 2011.
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