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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Polygamous Mormon Sect Taken Back to Court

Fundamentalist Mormons bowing to the imprisoned “prophet” Warren Jeffs use community property for secret meetings to banish members, reassign wives and children and defraud public assistance, a trust claims in court.

KINGMAN, Ariz. (CN) — Fundamentalist Mormons bowing to the imprisoned “prophet” Warren Jeffs use community property for secret meetings to banish members, reassign wives and children and defraud public assistance, a trust claims in court.

The United Effort Plan Trust sued the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Warren Jeffs and John Wayman, on March 9 in Mohave County Superior Court.

The 7-acre parcel, which includes a so-called community church and ample parking lot, is in Mohave County, in extreme northwest Arizona. Twin towns and their officials on the Arizona-Utah line — Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah — have been the subject of frequent litigation, including from the federal government, accusing the fundamentalist Mormon sect of using strong-arm, illegal tactics against nonmembers and apostates.

The sect established the United Effort Plan Trust in connection with the twin cities, founded in the 1930s. The towns' properties and businesses were owned by the trust, which doled out sections for members to live on and develop.

The United Effort Plan Trust executed a notice of dedication to religious use for the property in question, in 1988.

Utah took over the trust in 2005. Trust fiduciary Bruce Wisan, an accountant, was charged with overseeing and administering the $110 million trust’s assets.

The sect’s now-incarcerated leader, Warren Jeffs, was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list in 2006, after he fled Utah to avoid prosecution. He was arrested in Nevada and extradited to Utah, where he was charged with raping girls he called his “spiritual wives.” He was convicted in 2007, and sentenced to 10 years to life, but the convictions were reversed by the Utah Supreme Court in 2010 on erroneous jury instructions. He was extradited to Texas, where he was convicted of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of children at an FLDS ranch there. He is serving a life sentence plus 20 years in Texas, but is believed to still head the polygamous sect from prison.

His sect’s members began fighting for the trust – which includes more than 700 houses, farms, dairies and other businesses – in 2008. But the 10th Circuit ruled in 2012 that the trust should remain under the control of the state.

Documents now list the polygamous sect as property owner, the trust’s 12-page lawsuit states, though the notice was not intended as a deed to convey ownership and solely provided the church with exclusive use of the property for religious activities.

A 12-foot brick wall with a locked gate now stands around the property, the complaint states, and funerals and community programs are no longer held at the site.

The trust says that those actions were taken at Jeffs’ command.

“FLDS Church leaders to whom Warren Jeffs has delegated authority meet at the property to do such things as: excommunicate fathers and others from the Church without cause, break up families by assigning, and in many instances reassigning, wives and children to different men, send members of the community on repentance missions, and repeatedly interview and rebaptize members who have called out of favor with the ever evolving leadership,” according to the complaint.

Eleven leaders of the sect were separately charged in February 2016 with scheming to defraud public assistance programs, stemming from meetings at the property.

FLDS leaders “continue to meet there,” the new lawsuit states.

The Department of Justice claimed in 2012 that the sect controlled the area’s police force and ostracized nonmembers.

Dozens of former sect members claimed in 2016 that Jeffs and a law firm conspired to enforce underage marriages and child labor.

Neither party to the new lawsuit could be reached for comment Monday.

The trust seeks ownership of the property, in fee simple.

It is represented by Jason Dixon of Hildale.

Categories / Civil Rights, Religion

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