OPINION – With only a few weeks remaining in his tenure, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff took a field trip last week to the Short Creek area to try to figure out how to settle an ongoing issue: How best to dispose of the United Effort Plan Trust, worth an estimated $114 million.
The trust was established in 1942 by leaders of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to manage its properties and assets. The UEP owns the land and buildings where most FLDS followers live and work.
The UEP was taken over by the State of Utah in 2005, around the time Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed FLDS prophet, went on the lam when the law started closing in on him. Utah and Arizona authorities were pressing because a young woman had come forward accusing Jeffs of placing her into a marriage with one of her cousins when she was only 14.
It wasn’t the first time sexual abuse charges were filed against Jeffs. A year earlier three of his nephews filed papers in a northern Utah court accusing Jeffs of raping them. One of those nephews eventually took his own life.
The State of Texas was also on his tail for sexually abusing two little girls — one 12, the other 15 — who Jeffs had taken as “spiritual wives.” The charges stuck and Jeffs was eventually sentenced to life-plus. But, before anybody was able to slap the cuffs on him and haul him into a courthouse, he fled, making his way onto the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.
Meanwhile, there was all this money and property in the area they call Short Creek — the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Shurtleff’s office decided that Jeffs and the UEP had mishandled the funds and property and seized all of it. Bruce Wisan was appointed to oversee the whole lot. Wisan has operated as the state-appointed fiduciary for some time now, tending to it all even though the state owes him about $5 million for his efforts.
If that’s not complicated enough for you to wrap your head around, consider also that the State of Texas recently filed to take over the Yearning for Zion Ranch, worth about $30 million, that Jeffs ordered his followers to build in the area near Eldorado.
On the surface, one would think that Utah should be moved to the head of the class for being the first to file charges against Jeffs and seizing control of his church’s assets.
That is until you understand that seven years after taking possession of a bunch of unfinished and undeveloped property where Jeffs’ followers lived, all that has happened is that the state has dug itself into at least a $5 million hole in monies owed Wisan and still hasn’t figured out what to do with the property.
During a public meeting in Short Creek last week, Shurtleff said the options were few.
Utah could, he said:
• Establish a board to govern the trust.
• Dissolve the trust and distribute its assets among FLDS members who contributed to it over the years.
• Dissolve the trust, liquidate the assets, and auction them among the people who contributed to it.
• Some combination of the three options; or
• Do something different.
Wisan said he’d like to give the deeds back to the people who have lived on the property all these years.
That is, if any are still there.
You see, the FLDS flock is on the move.
Jeffs’ followers have scattered, with many reportedly moving to new FLDS compounds near Pringle, South Dakota, and Mancos, Colorado. Observers of the Short Creek area say the number of followers there is dwindling and the compound in Texas is virtually empty, according to published reports, as Jeffs continues to issue round after round of bizarre edicts from his Texas prison cell. This year alone he has banned couples from having sex and named only 15 men to father all future FLDS children; prohibited followers from eating oatmeal, turnips, dairy products, and corn; issued a “doomsday prophecy” and instructed followers to build a backpack and be ready to move at a moment’s notice; and ordered several businesses to close, re-open, and re-close their shops.
Still, there are many people who do not understand the severity of what is going on, that life in Short Creek, or Mancos, Eldorado, Pringle, or any of the other places where Jeffs’ followers have set up camp, is nothing like the polygamous lifestyle portrayed in “Big Love” or “Sister Wives.” It’s not even close.
But, now, officials in both Utah and Texas are left to clean up after them.
What will happen?
What usually happens, the attorneys will take the lion’s share and taxpayers will, once again, be left holding the bag.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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