Fundamentalist LDS faithful may vacate the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., rather than accept court-ordered reforms to the polygamous sect's real-estate holdings arm, the United Effort Plan Trust.
"The leadership is drawing a line in the sand and there may be some vacancies," Bruce Wisan told the Deseret Morning News on Wednesday.
The court-appointed special fiduciary of the UEP Trust said he has been told by various sources that FLDS members are building more facilities outside the community.
The action comes as he is imposing more measures to stabilize the UEP's cash-flow situation and housing in the border towns. Wisan is planning to impose a $100-a-month assessment on residents for infrastructure improvements tied to subdividing the communal property, which, he said, could cause conflict.
"A lot of money has been bled out of the community," he said during a hearing in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court. "The FLDS have to pay 10 percent tithing, then they're assessed $1,000 a month going to leadership. My $100 may not sound like much, but it's a lot."
Wisan plans to take it further and force housing occupancy agreements on the communities, starting with FLDS leaders.
"I can't back down or I lose my credibility, so I'm pushing on those," Wisan said afterward.
Many FLDS faithful have refused to cooperate because of an edict from polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. Others are afraid that if they cooperate, they will have their families stripped from them and be cast out of the FLDS Church.
Wisan said he has been told that some FLDS are planning on leaving.
"I'm hopeful they may come to their senses on this thing and sign the occupancy agreements and deal with the $100-a-month assessment," Wisan said. "It's going to be a heck of a lot cheaper than finding housing in Henderson, Las Vegas, Hurricane or St. George."
In what was expected to be a mundane court hearing Wednesday, some ex-FLDS members showed up to vent about reform efforts.
"I feel we're still under one man (rule,)" Leroy Stubbs complained. "It's traded from Warren to Bruce."
"Mr. Wisan works for the court," Judge Denise Lindberg told him. "Whatever he does, he needs to get my approval. No, Mr. Wisan is not another Warren."
They were protesting the UEP Trust's proposed sale of a Beryl dairy farm, claiming it was fraudulently deeded over to the FLDS Church in 1997 under pressure from church leaders. (The fiduciary bought it at an auction.) They also complained of high lawyer bills and a push to quickly reform the UEP Trust.
The UEP is falling on hard times. The trust has less than $10,000 in its operating account, Wisan said. He and his lawyers haven't been paid for their services since last year. The sale of the dairy farm would be a much-needed cash infusion.
An exasperated Lindberg said the court and the fiduciary have done everything they could do to reach out to the communities. The problem is, no one cooperates or responds and sometimes undermines what they are trying to do.
"We're having to spend money. The reason why is we're not getting assistance from the people it benefits," she said.
"How do you expect the FLDS people to understand when it's just Warren Jeffs all over again?" Patrick Pipkin asked her.
"There's going to have to be a leap of faith," Lindberg replied.In 2005, the courts took control of the UEP Trust over allegations that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it. The UEP Trust, based on the early Mormon concept of a "united order," controls homes, businesses and property in the FLDS enclaves. Since then, Wisan has been trying to reform the trust, collect taxes and subdivide the land, bringing private property ownership to the communities.