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LDS Church asks judge to dismiss Huntsman lawsuit alleging fraud

Mormon Temple Philadelphia
Posted at 10:07 AM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 12:07:03-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is asking a federal judge to dismiss a fraud lawsuit filed by a member of a high-profile Utah family.

In a new court filing obtained by FOX 13 on Tuesday, lawyers for the faith ask a Los Angeles federal judge to dismiss James Huntsman's lawsuit.

"James Huntsman seeks an extraordinary remedy—the refund of his voluntary, unrestricted contributions to his former church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," church attorney Rick Richmond wrote in the filing. "Huntsman quit making contributions and resigned from the Church because he had a crisis of faith and no longer believes in certain religious doctrines or practices. Huntsman attempts to avoid the obvious obstacles to seeking a refund by cloaking his claim in the garb of a fraud action."

Huntsman, the brother of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. and a member of the wealthy Utah family, sued the church alleging fraud. Specifically, he claims that tithing dollars were spent on commercial ventures, including the City Creek Center project in downtown Salt Lake City, instead of charitable purposes. The lawsuit filed by James Huntsman seeks millions in damages and he claims he will take any money he wins to donate to charities "supporting LGBTQ, African-American, and women’s rights."

But in their motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the Latter-day Saint church repeats its claim that no tithing dollars were used to fund City Creek. Instead, the money came from its real-estate arm and other sources, including Ensign Peak and a source of money that was redacted in the court filing.

Ensign Peak is a multi-billion dollar investment fund the church operates. A former advisor filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, accusing it of pocketing billions instead of spending it on charitable purposes. The Latter-day Saint church has denied any wrongdoing with its financial investments.

In Huntsman's lawsuit, the Church goes on to say he cannot specifically point to instances of fraud and the faith's spending is protected under the First Amendment.

Huntsman gave a deposition in the case, the filing revealed. The document also disclosed he resigned his membership from the Church in 2020 "because, as he described it, they 'stopped believing certain doctrines unique to Mormonism.'"

Huntsman's attorneys will have the ability to respond. The Church has asked that at a hearing at the end of this month in Los Angeles, the judge dismiss the case.

Read The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' filing here: