State planning to bow out of complex FLDS trust fund

Published: Friday, Feb. 15 2013 4:25 p.m. MST

"Termination may be the most logical, best way to go," Shields agreed.

Wisan said he, too, felt that terminating the trust and distributing the property may be the "best route," considering the difficulty they may face in finding members of the FLDS faithful who are willing and able to serve.

"I'm not sure someone would be able to act independently without fear of losing their wife or children," Wisan said.

Willie Jessop, a former spokesman for the FLDS Church who no longer follows Jeffs, said he is hopeful that a board of trustees will be appointed and that the trust will be able to go forward. He said there are those in the FLDS community who have been working with Wisan and the Utah Attorney General's Office.

"Everyone seems to be on track with this," Jessop said. "There are enough people who recognize the importance of participating."

Still, he said those "subject to the dictates of Warren Jeffs" have a conflict with others in the community and would advocate only Jeffs' position if put on a board.

"That's something where we have to go get people on the board of trustees who are willing to help those people whether they are participants or not," Jessop said.

FLDS members consider sharing its assets under the United Effort Plan a religious principle and see state intervention in the trust as a violation of their religious rights. They have long been challenging the state takeover of the trust in both state and federal courts.

Valued at more than $110 million, the trust holds most of the property and homes in the two border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The church also holds property in Bountiful, British Columbia, and Eldorado, Texas.

In 2009, Lindberg ruled that a liquidity crisis of the UEP trust made selling trust property necessary. The trust has around $3 million in debt and no steady source of revenue. The FLDS Church appealed the ruling to the Utah Supreme Court. But in August 2010, the state's high court found that the pending state lawsuit, which was filed in 2008 and challenged the administration of the trust, came too late.

Despite a ruling, in a separate federal court action from U.S. District Judge Dee Benson finding the state's actions were unconstitutional, the issue was then appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court asked the Utah Supreme Court to clarify whether its ruling that the UEP lawsuit was too late barred any subsequent lawsuits stemming from the same argument in any court.

On Oct. 2, the Supreme Court ruled that their ruling did preclude any "subsequent action on the same claims between the same parties."

Neither the Utah Supreme Court nor the 10th Circuit looked at the constitutional claims brought by the FLDS.

Wolf said the bulk of the litigation centered around the constitutional question of the state's involvement and led to periods where the trust assets were frozen. He said the original intent was never to keep the trust in state control for eight years and it should be able to sustain itself on its own.

"It has a better chance of operating successfully without the state's involvement," he said.

Shields is optimistic they will work out an agreement that all parties are happy with.

"I think cooler heads will prevail," he said.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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