Taxpayers could foot the bill for FLDS land war

Posted at 5:42 PM, Feb 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-15 20:47:00-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Eight years after it began, a legal war over land in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., may finally be coming to an end.

But taxpayers may end up paying for it.

A hearing was held in 3rd District Court where a judge and attorneys discussed an "exit strategy" for getting the states of Utah and Arizona out of the legal and financial quagmire that is the United Effort Plan Trust.

"I'm optimistic," assistant Utah Attorney General David Wolf told FOX 13 outside of court. "We've made an awful lot of progress over the last few months."

Lawyers for the accountant appointed by the courts to oversee the UEP Trust presented their proposal, which includes:

  • Appointing trustees to oversee the UEP.
  • The fiduciary will not seek any post-judgment interest from the court battles.
  • The fiduciary will not seek any more money beyond the $5.6 million already owed.
  • The state would get a lien on UEP assets to recoup money.

"The devil's in the details," Judge Denise Lindberg told attorneys about any proposed settlement. She threatened that if they could not reach an amicable settlement, she could ultimately dissolve the UEP Trust.

In 2005, the Utah Attorney General's Office asked the courts to take control of the UEP Trust amid allegations that polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and others mismanaged it. The UEP controls most of the homes and property in Hildale and Colorado City. It's based on the early-Mormon concept of a "united order," where members donate their property to the church and it's doled out according to "just wants and needs."

In the years since it's been taken over, the UEP has become mired in debt, in part because of lengthy legal battles with FLDS faithful.

Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault, has historically told his faithful followers to "answer them nothing," when it came to the UEP Trust. That led to taxes going unpaid and mounting legal bills as the court-appointed fiduciary attempted to reform the trust.

"If you're an active member of the FLDS, you're subject to the dictates of Warren Jeffs," said Willie Jessop, a one-time loyal follower of Jeffs.

Jessop said he was optimistic the UEP battles could be settled.

"It's a very painful religious transition," he told FOX 13. "It's hard on the community, but it's also an opportunity to settle going forward that's never been here before."

The issue remains whether or not lawyers and others who have worked on the UEP Trust case for years without a paycheck will see any money. The judge has ordered the Utah Attorney General's Office to pay the $5.6 million bill. Then-Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said they had no money to pay it.

The Utah State Legislature is being asked to pay the bill. On Friday, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said she was unsure if they would.

"We don't know," she told reporters in her office. "There's still a lot of things to work out."

Lockhart said she wants to negotiate before being asked to cut such a massive check of taxpayer's money.

"We are responsible to the taxpayers and we need to be able to tell them that it's an appropriate expenditure of their money," she said.