A family living on land controlled by the United Effort Plan Trust is suing to stop eviction proceedings by the court-appointed special fiduciary of the Fundamentalist LDS Church's real estate holdings arm.
The UEP Trust filed an eviction notice in 5th District Court in St. George last month seeking to evict Guy and Ilene Steed from their Hildale home, which sits on land owned by the trust. The Steeds are fighting it.
"This is where they live. They have no place to go," Peter Stirba, the Steeds' attorney, said Wednesday. "The land that found its way into the UEP Trust years ago was given precisely for religious purposes and was to provide for members of the church to live there and prosper there."
The UEP Trust, which controls homes, businesses and property in the FLDS enclaves of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., came under court control in 2005 after allegations surfaced that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and other church officials mismanaged it.
For years, many FLDS have refused to cooperate with court-ordered reformations to the $110 million trust. They did not respond to lawsuits, refused to answer property-tax demands until faced with the prospect of eviction and resisted a $100 a month assessment to pay for infrastructure improvements as the fiduciary seeks to subdivide the once communal property.
"There are a whole host of issues and many things have been imposed unfairly, inaccurately, inconsistently and arbitrarily," Stirba said Wednesday. Striba questioned if the $100-a-month fees were really just paying for the mounting bills for the fiduciary and his lawyers.
"It wasn't until the special fiduciary was given authority over trust lands that you developed these tax delinquencies. Up until then, all taxes were paid. There were no issues," he said.
Court-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan has said the resistance has been because of edicts handed down by Jeffs telling his followers to "answer them nothing."
The FLDS Church's silence is apparently being broken in a series of court actions recently filed on behalf of members challenging the fiduciary's authority. In July, Wisan threatened to evict 57 people for not paying the assessment, and Stirba sought a temporary restraining order halting it. A judge ruled at the time they had to wait until Wisan actually filed before going to court.
The Steeds, court records show, are the first evictions sought.
"They want to fight the battles that probably should have been fought when we reformed the trust," said Jeffrey L. Shields, Wisan's attorney, who called the lawsuits an attempt to choke the cash-strapped trust.
He said the Steeds' eviction a "test case" to see if the courts will uphold the fiduciary's authority over UEP property matters.
"We're not tyring to remove them for the reasons that Warren Jeffs and the old heirarchy is trying to remove them. You didn't pay your $100 a month assessment and you won't sign an occupancy agreement. We don't know who's living there."
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