Deadline nears for settlement in church land fight
SALT LAKE CITY — Despite some 40 hours of negotiations, it’s unlikely a settlement can be reached by Monday in a dispute over a property trust once run by polygamous church leader Warren Jeffs, Utah’s attorney general said.
The $114 million United Effort Plan Trust is an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It holds most of the land and homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., as well as a church enclave in Bountiful, British Columbia.
The Utah courts took control of the trust in 2005 after allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs, who was on the run from criminal charges in Utah and Arizona.
The FLDS has been negotiating a settlement with the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona and with a court-appointed accountant to regain control of the trust. A proposed settlement is due Monday to 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Friday his office and attorneys for the FLDS were close to a deal that would return control of most of the trust’s holdings back to the church.
He said his office expects to submit that proposal to Lindberg on Monday, even though neither Arizona’s attorney general nor court-appointed accountant Bruce Wisan had agreed to it.
Shurtleff said he didn’t know whether Wisan and Arizona would submit their own proposals or simply object to the proposal his office submits to the court.
FLDS attorneys Rod Parker and Ken Okazaki said they were hopeful that a joint proposal could be filed Monday, but they acknowledged they were “not close” to resolving differences with Wisan and Arizona’s attorney general.
The UEP trust was founded in the 1940s on a religious principle called the Holy United Order, which calls for the sharing of assets and a communal lifestyle that benefits all who follow the tenets of the FLDS faith.
Wisan has converted the trust into a secular entity and allowed former church members to return to the community to claim their share of assets.
At the direction of Jeffs, church members have largely ignored Wisan’s management of the trust and have cooperated with him only when threatened with evictions.
Jeffs was convicted in 2007 of two felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in an arranged marriage involving a then-14-year-old follower in Utah. He is in an Arizona jail and faces criminal charges in that state and Texas related to other underage marriages.
With their leader jailed, church members sued to regain control of the trust last fall when Wisan proposed selling off land set aside for a temple.
The FLDS follows the early teachings of Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the practice of polygamy, which is believed to bring glorification in heaven. The mainstream Mormon church abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood.