Extortion allegations raised in FLDS child-bride lawsuit
Jud Burkett, Jud Burkett, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY — Allegations of extortion between a former child bride and her "spiritual" husband against a state-controlled trust fund were raised Wednesday during a hearing in a multimillion dollar civil lawsuit.
Elissa Wall was 14 when she was "spiritually married" to her cousin, Allen Steed, in 2001 in a ceremony presided over by the leader of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, Warren Jeffs. In 2011, Steed struck a plea deal and was convicted of solemnization of a prohibited marriage, and he entered a plea in abeyance to a second charge of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He was sentenced to three years' probation and 30 days in jail.
In 2007, Wall filed a lawsuit against Jeffs, the FLDS Church and the United Effort Plan Trust. The UEP, worth more than $100 million, controls most of the property in the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. In 2005, the UEP was taken over by the state because of allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs and leaders of the FLDS Church.
Wall recently hired new attorneys to continue pursuing the ongoing civil case.
On Wednesday, 3rd District Judge Keith Kelly listened to arguments from both sides on motions to dismiss the suit, or at least change the trial date if the case is not dismissed.
Bill Walker, an attorney for the UEP, argued that the case should be dismissed because Wall and Steed entered into a "secret agreement."
"It is clear Elissa Wall and Allen Steed are in a conspiracy to get money from the trust," he argued. "This is extortion. This is theft."
Walker claimed that Wall agreed to plead for leniency for Steed and in return he would drop his counter-claim against her and not say anything "confrontational" or "hostile" against her in her civil suit.
"He can't participate in any manner that is confrontational for her or he breaches the agreement," he said.
Wall's attorney, Mike Worel, responded by arguing that Wall and Steed's plea agreement — while written "inartfully" — was being misinterpreted by the UEP.
"(Walker's comments) sounded really good for soundbites so they could put it on TV," Worel countered. "When you flush this out, there is no secret agreement."
Whether or not the recent allegations of extortion are true, they have raised the attention of the Utah Attorney General's Office. Also sitting in the courtroom on Wednesday taking notes was assistant attorney general David Wolf.
"Since there has now been allegations of collusion and conspiracy between Elissa Wall and Allen Steed, our office needs to look at the veracity of those allegations to ensure that beneficiaries of the charitable trust are treated fairly. But we don't know if the allegations are true and it's just too early for us to take a position as to which side is right," he said.
Worel also took issue with allegations that he was purposely not sharing evidence with the UEP.
Kelly said he recognized the need for urgency for a ruling on the motions. But because so much material was presented in both oral and written form, he told the attorneys he will take the motions under advisement and will likely make a decision by next week.
Wall is seeking $40 million in her lawsuit, according to court documents filed last week.
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