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Utah appeals order to pay debts to FLDS trust

Published: Sunday, March 11 2012 10:46 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Attorney General's Office on Tuesday appealed a judge's order to pay off more than $5.5 million in debt incurred by managers of a communal land trust once run by jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

In a petition filed with the Utah Supreme Court, state attorneys argue that a lower court's ruling in February giving the state 90 days to pay the debts "violates state constitutional separation of powers principles, and demands payment in a time and under terms that make it impossible for Utah's attorney general to comply."

The money is owed to Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan, his attorneys and other firms hired to assist with management of the United Effort Plan Trust — the $114 million communal property trust of Jeffs' Fundamentalist LDS Church. The trust holds the land and homes of FLDS members in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and in Bountiful, British Columbia.

Utah seized control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs and other FLDS leaders. The Arizona Attorney General's Office backed the effort.

Wisan was to be paid from the sale of trust assets, but a string of pending lawsuits, including one before Denver's 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, has blocked sales.

No trust bills have been paid since 2008.

In February, 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg ordered the state to pay the bills within 90 days.

In Tuesday's filing, state attorneys argue that the deadline for payment by Attorney General Mark Shurtleff "constitutes an illegal order to which the attorney general cannot comply," given it would require a supplemental appropriation from the state Legislature which has not been approved.

The petition seeks an expedited order from the high court, given the looming May 10 deadline Lindberg set for payment of the debts.

"We're disappointed that we're going to have to spend more on litigation costs but we want it done right," Wisan's attorney, Jeff Shields, said Tuesday. "If it takes the Supreme Court getting involved, then let's get it done right."

The Utah Attorney General's Office had also asked Lindberg to consider ordering Arizona officials to share the debt. State attorneys said the judge could base each state's share of payments on the percentage of trust lands located on their respective sides of the border.

About 54 percent of the trust's properties are on Arizona land. Arizona objected, and Lindberg did not include a decision on that issue in her February ruling.

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