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Negotiations on polygamous trust hit a final snag

Published: Friday, May 22 2009 7:01 p.m. MDT

State attorneys, a court appointed fiduciary and leaders of a southern Utah polygamous church failed to wrap up a settlement Friday in a long battle over a land trust seized after allegations of mismanagement.

After 10 hours of talks at the Utah Capitol, negotiators quit for the day, saying they were unable to resolve a final issue on the United Effort Plan Trust. Confidentiality rules prohibit anyone from disclosing specifics.

"It's a significant issue, and we seem to be quite a ways apart," said Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed accountant who has managed the trust since 2005. "I thought we were close, and then it changed."

Three days of settlement talks in April, involving leaders of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, Wisan, the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona also ended without a deal.

The UEP Trust holds most of the land and homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the twin border towns long controlled by the FLDS. Church members consider communal living a religious principle and formed the trust in the 1940s to benefit all who kept the tenets of the church.

The Utah courts seized the trust after state attorneys argued that church president Warren Jeffs and other church leaders had mismanaged its assets by, among other things, failing to respond to civil lawsuits from 2004 that left it vulnerable to liquidation.

The parties are scheduled to appear in 3rd District Court next week to update Judge Denise Lindberg on the progress toward a settlement.

"From the trust's perspective, we think the deal that had been put on the table was very generous," said Wisan.

On Wisan's watch, the trust was converted into a secular entity, paving the way for former church members — whether they were excommunicated or left voluntarily — to return to the community to claim their share of the assets.

The FLDS consider secular management of the trust a violation of their religious rights. Church members rejected Wisan's management and, aside from paying property taxes, have mostly ignored him unless threatened with evictions.

Six months ago, when Wisan sought court permission to sell off land set aside for a church temple, the sect changed course and sued to regain control of the trust.

Negotiators are trying to resolve a host of issues, including the distribution of homes and undeveloped trust property, public access to cemeteries, parks and a medical clinic and payment of some $2.6 million owed to Wisan and his attorneys in trust-management fees.

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