Three former members of a polygamist church want back their worldly possessions from the church leader they say failed to deliver on his promise of a face-to-face meeting with Jesus Christ.
The trio said they turned over $264,390 to Jim Harmston, the head of The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days.Harmston, they said, took advantage of their "deepest spiritual needs."
Harmston, from his home in Manti, on Wednesday called the lawsuit "felonious."
The action was filed Tuesday in 6th District Court by Ivan Douglas Jordan, a former apostle in the church; Kaziah May Hancock, one of Jordan's wives, and Cindy Stewart.
Stewart said she was excommunicated from the church last May, and Hancock and Jordan say they were excommunicated in August.
The church, with about 300 members, has its roots in Mormonism and teaches the world will soon end with only its members being saved.
Its faithful believe Harmston is God's spokesman on earth - a reincarnated Joseph Smith - and that members can meet Jesus Christ if they consecrate all that they have to the church, Hancock said.
Smith founded the Mormon Church in 1830. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - now with some 10 million members worldwide - disavowed plural marriage in 1890 and considers it grounds for excommunication. Polygamy is illegal in Utah, but the laws against it have not been enforced for several decades, and there may be tens of thousands of polygamists in the state.
The lawsuit names the church, Harmston, former church bishops William B. Lithgow and Keith Larson and leaders Daniel Simmons, Kay Crabtree, Kent Braddy and Phillip Savage as defendants.
Harmston said church leaders are interviewing potential attorneys and plan to file a response to the lawsuit soon.
He declined to discuss the specifics of the allegations but said the church will likely countersue.