A family feud of sorts is developing over a southern Utah dairy farm with ties to the Fundamentalist LDS Church.
A lawsuit was filed in 5th District Court in Cedar City last week against Harker & Sons LC, by 16 men seeking to assert their rights to the Harker dairy farm near Beryl, in Iron County. The farm is now under the control of the court-appointed special fiduciary for the United Effort Plan Trust.
According to the lawsuit, the men believe they have rights to the farm, which Wisan is seeking to sell to generate revenue for the court-controlled UEP Trust. The men built homes there, and sometimes worked for free under the belief they had a stake in the farm.
"They're claiming they were promised a life estate and there's unjust enrichment," Wisan said Wednesday.
The farm was started in 1972 by Parley J. Harker. As he was nearing his last days in 1997, the lawsuit said he consecrated the farm to the FLDS Church.
"He fully expected that doing so would realize his dream that his children and grandchildren and so on could construct their homes and live on the property in perpetuity," attorney Blaine Hofeling wrote in the complaint.
Harker and other partners filed a quit claim deed and later transferred their stock to the FLDS Church's Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, the lawsuit states. In 2005, the courts took control of the UEP Trust amid allegations that FLDS leaders mismanaged it. Wisan bought the farm at sheriff's auction is now trying to sell it to members of the Harker family who are not FLDS members to raise money for the cash-strapped trust.
Wisan, the UEP Trust and FLDS Church leaders are also being sued by two brothers, Sterling and William Harker, who also want to block the dairy farm's sale. They claim that shares of the farm were improperly given to the FLDS Church, being told by Warren Jeffs: "It is what the prophet wants." In March, Sterling and William Harker showed up to a UEP hearing to protest the sale but were told by the judge that their claims would be best directed against the FLDS Church.
This latest lawsuit claims that the 16 men have been kicked off the property, something Wisan disputes.
"We asked them to stay on when we transitioned over, and they would not," he said, adding that some moved out voluntarily and one was asked to leave so current farm workers could live there. "They're not working for me."
The men suing the farm are working at other FLDS-run farms, Wisan says. The lawsuit seeks access to the property, financial damages and a stake in the farm."Plaintiffs have a life estate in the real property and the farm operation and that defendants may not interfere with," Hofeling wrote.