A lawyer for residents of the Fundamentalist LDS communities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., is going to court to try to remove the man placed in charge of the polygamous sect's real-estate holdings arm.
Peter Stirba filed a motion for a temporary restraining order late Tuesday, seeking to strip court-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan of his powers. The restraining order also seeks to stop planned evictions from land controlled by the United Effort Plan Trust. A hearing on the issue is expected to be held in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court today.
"There's a general sense that if the special fiduciary continues behaving in this manner, the communities as they know it will cease to exist," Stirba said.
In an interview Tuesday, Wisan disputed the attorney's allegations and said it would be an uphill battle.
"Peter Stirba wants to replace the reformed trust, replace the fiduciary and go back to FLDS control," he told the Deseret News. "He doesn't understand the need for the fiduciary."
In court papers, Stirba lashed out at the fiduciary and his management style, criticized him for hiring ex-FLDS members to collect taxes and his interactions with the community's police. He accused Wisan of driving away local businesses and people.
In 2005, a judge took control of the UEP Trust, which controls homes, businesses and property in Hildale, Colorado City and in the Canadian enclave of Bountiful, in British Columbia. She appointed Wisan to oversee it. FLDS leaders, who were trustees of the UEP, failed to respond to a series of lawsuits leveled against the church and were accused of mismanaging the trust.
Stirba who is also an attorney for Hildale and Colorado City suggested it is Wisan who is mismanaging it, claiming that property has been undersold and that a lot of the money collected has gone straight to attorney's fees and accounting fees.
"I'm not sure he's acting any differently than the former trustees, in some respects," he said.
Letters were recently sent to 57 homes telling them to sign occupancy agreements and pay a $100 a month assessment fee or face eviction. Stirba said that depending upon the occupancy arrangements as many as 1,000 men, women and children could be kicked out of their homes. Wisan said he has not filed to evict anyone, but with a July 15 deadline now passed, he intends to.
Wisan has said the monthly fee is to pay for much-needed infrastructure improvements in the towns as he moves to subdivide the once-communal property. Wisan blamed the town councils for creating numerous restrictions and requirements that had to be cleared first, something the previous trust managers never had to do.
"I explained to both city councils these assessments would happen if they imposed these restrictions on subdividing," he said.
The FLDS' failure to respond to court papers, tax notices and even pleas from the judge has frustrated many. Since the trust was taken over, Wisan said he has struggled to get property taxes paid and enact court-ordered reforms to the trust. The resistance from FLDS faithful has often been because of edicts by leadership and Wisan believes this change of tactic is fallout from the raid on the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.
"They've seen that this resist but don't legally fight hasn't worked," Wisan said. "I was told by a representative of the FLDS, 'We've seen the last default judgment and we're going to be fighting from now on.' In some ways it'll be interesting to have the FLDS come to the table, and be subject to deposition and cross examination."Stirba could not say why the FLDS declined to address the situation back in 2005, but pointed out: "the days of the FLDS people not defending themselves in court is over."