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Judge asked to order release of FLDS fees

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2009 11:21 a.m. MDT

A court-appointed accountant has asked a judge to order Utah's attorney general to release $192,600 in occupancy fees from residents of homes held in a polygamous church land trust.

The trust has been under state control since 2005 when Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, was accused of mismanagement. Occupancy fees from residents, some of whom are no longer FLDS members, provide the funds to manage the trust.

In court papers filed late Monday, attorneys for fiduciary Bruce Wisan say a request by FLDS members to withhold the occupancy fees payment is an attempt to starve the cash-strapped United Effort Plan Trust.

"The trust is in a severe liquidity crisis," attorneys Jeff and Zach Shields wrote. "Without the funds, the fiduciary is also severely limited in his ability to administer the trust in accordance with his court-ordered responsibilities."

That includes hiring attorneys and others needed to defend the trust in numerous lawsuits.

The United Effort Plan Trust is a communal property trust and an arm of the FLDS Church. Formed in 1942, the trust holds most of the land and homes in Hildale, Utah, Colorado City, Ariz., and a church enclave near Bountiful, British Columbia.

A settlement to end state intervention in the trust was proposed last month. Wisan objects to the settlement.

The FLDS asked the attorney general to withhold a June 15 payment because Wisan sold trust assets — $360,000 worth of cows from a dairy once run by church members — during the negotiations without disclosing his plans.

FLDS attorneys contend that conditions of the settlement negotiations preclude Wisan from selling the cows.

The cows are part of the Harker Farm, a Beryl dairy that was deeded to the church years ago. It was sold at auction and bought by Wisan in 2007 to satisfy a $8.8 million judgment against Jeffs and other church leaders. The farm is a key asset in the settlement proposal.

Wisan's attorneys contend that 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg ordered only the stay of trust litigation, not its administration.

They note that a Nov. 10, 2008 court order allows for the sale of assets without prior disclosure because some attempts at transparency have resulted in objections by "individuals intent on undermining the trust," causing additional expenses or losses.

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