Auctioneer’s gavel is banging in polygamous towns on Utah-Arizona line
FLDS • A recent sale approved by judge made nearly $1.14M.
Published: July 20, 2014 06:07PM
Updated: July 20, 2014 06:40PM
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Women work in a field in 2008 in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, home to many members of Warren Jeffs' FLDS church. Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune

Nine years after the Beehive State took control of a polygamous trust, that trust has accelerated the sale of land in twin towns on the Utah-Arizona state line.

The sales benefit state taxpayers, who have already financed management of the trust, called the United Effort Plan (UEP). The sales also help Utah toward a goal of distributing all UEP-held lands.

On Friday, 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg approved the sale of 13 UEP parcels auctioned last month. Those parcels totaled 835 acres and generated nearly $1.14 million for the UEP.

The UEP took bids on 12 more parcels, but Lindberg and UEP fiduciary Bruce Wisan rejected the offers as too low. All the land at the auction was in or near Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

This past winter, the trust sold an entire city block in Colorado City for $1.05 million and a 450-acre stretch known as Berry Knoll for $650,000.

The two towns are the home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which holds polygamy as a central tenet. The UEP was the trust the church operated to hold most of the homes, commercial buildings and land in the communities.

Utah seized the trust in 2005, fearing FLDS President Warren Jeffs was mismanaging the UEP and residents were at risk of losing their homes. A judge appointed Wisan, a Salt Lake City accountant, as the trust’s fiduciary.

The UEP quickly began accumulating debts, including management fees owed to Wisan and attorney fees to defend lawsuits filed by former and current FLDS members and the town governments in Hildale and Colorado City.

Those suits also prevented the UEP from selling land to help pay the debts. In 2013, the Utah Legislature loaned Wisan $5.69 million to pay himself and other creditors. Wisan eventually repaid $4 million of the loan. The remainder was forgiven.

In the past year, most of the lawsuits have been resolved in the UEP’s favor, including a Utah Supreme Court ruling last month that affirmed the subdividing of property in Hildale. Those resolutions have allowed Wisan to sell property and pay creditors. As of Dec. 31, the trust had about $5.6 million in debts, according to a fiduciary’s annual report.

Wisan also plans to lease commercial property, including a dairy and an old FLDS bishop’s storehouse. He said the rent will be “on the low end” of market price.

Wisan hopes the sales and leases provide a boost to Hildale’s and Colorado City’s economies.

“It’s a struggling community,” Wisan said.

Richard Holm, whom Jeffs booted from the FLDS in 2003, paid $528,500 to buy three of the properties at last month’s auction. Holm said he plans to build a mixed-use development there.

Holm agreed with Wisan that converting trust holdings into private property would help the economies in Hildale and Colorado City, but he accused Wisan of hypocrisy for advocating private holdings and then refusing to accept the bids on some of the properties. Holm said Wisan has been too slow to sell UEP property.

“The economy is 10 years worse off,” Holm said.

Besides the lawsuits slowing him, Wisan has said he was unable to sell many properties until they were subdivided, and all sales or transfers must be approved by Lindberg.

The trust still holds about $110 million in assets, including about 750 homes.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle