A judge in Utah is preparing to select five to seven people for a board that will oversee the redistribution of homes and other property within the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).
Most of the property in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona belong to the United Effort Plan (UEP) — a property trust created in 1942.
FLDS members consider communal living — a principle known as the Law of Consecration and the United Order — an integral part of their religion. The property trust, currently worth an estimated $118 million — was set up to allow followers to followers to share in its assets.
Utah courts seized control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations by state attorneys that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and other church leaders had mismanaged its assets.
The state also feared the property trust was put at risk when Jeffs failed to respond to a lawsuit filed in 2004 by six boys who had been kicked out of the church.
Theologically the FLDS is a cult of the Mormon Church — one of dozens of fundamentalist Mormon offshoots. Sociologically it is cult as well.
Warren Jeffs rules his followers, who consider him to be a prophet sent by God, with an iron fist, even while he is behind bars — sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church refers to as “spiritual marriages.”
Ex-FLDS members say Jeffs abused the United Effort Plan by using it as one way to control his followers:
Ever since it was seized the UEP has remained the subject of ongoing legal battles, but the state’s intention has always been to return control of the trust to the community’s members.
The creation a board that will oversee the property trust is an important step.
The Associated Press says, “Third District Court Judge Denise Lindberg will review the applications in search of people who can make decisions independently of any outside influence.”
Board members do not have to be FLDS followers — and in fact Jeffs has forbidden his followers to apply for the position.
There is no set date by which the judge has to make here decision. If she can not find at least five qualified people among the 24 candidates, the application process will start over again.
If and when a board has been formed, its members will have their work cut out for them.
While many of the 7,500 people living in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, still follow Warren Jeffs, hundreds of others have either been kicked out of the FLDS — or have left on their own accord.
Both current and former members feel they have a rightful claim to their homes even while the properties are still part of the trust.
Further complicating the issues is the fact that whenever Jeffs excommunicated married members from his polygamous cult, their wives, children and properties were assigned to other FLDS men.