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Former child bride, polygamous trust settle lawsuit for $2.75M

First Published      Last Updated May 06 2016 08:57 pm


Polygamy » Forced to marry her cousin, “MJ” to receive a mix of cash and property.

Former child bride Elissa Wall has reached a $2.75 million settlement with the United Effort Plan, the trust that oversees homes and other real estate in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Wall, who originally filed her lawsuit under the moniker "MJ" because she was a juvenile when she was forced to marry, will receive a mix of cash and property, said Jeff Barlow, the UEP's executive director. He said the exact terms won't be made public until they are filed with the judge, whose approval of the settlement is needed.

In a statement released Friday by her attorney Alan Mortensen, Wall said the settlement was "long overdue."



"Ms. Wall brought this case to hold responsible those in power who used their position to perpetuate abuse," the statement reads. "She has experienced firsthand how the UEP Trust was used by [Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leader] Warren Jeffs to hurt families like hers and others."

However, the settlement for Wall, forced to marry her cousin at age 14 in a ceremony presided over by Jeffs, was far less than the $40 million she earlier sought.

On March 23, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the UEP — now a charitable trust under management independent from the FLDS — could be held liable for Jeffs' role in forcing Wall to marry. The justices then sent the case back to Salt Lake County's 3rd District Court, where the settlement occurred.

In 2001, Jeffs was head of the UEP and Wall's attorneys argued that he was acting in his capacity as trustee of the UEP when he forced her to wed her 19-year-old cousin that year. Wall and her now ex-husband, Allen Steed, were forced to follow Jeffs' instructions to marry if they hoped to remain on UEP property, eat food grown or purchased by the UEP and use other trust resources, her lawsuit claimed.

Attorneys for the UEP unsuccessfully countered that ordering a marriage to an underage girl is so far outside the bounds of Jeffs' duties as trustee that the trust cannot be liable.

In 2007, a St. George jury convicted Jeffs of rape as an accomplice for his role in Wall's marriage. The Utah Supreme Court later overturned that conviction.

In 2011, a Texas jury convicted Jeffs, now 59, of sex assault charges related to his taking underage girls as brides. He is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years.

Wall's statement Friday acknowledged that the UEP that was used to pressure her in 2001 is not the same entity that exists today.

"The UEP Trust has gone through some remarkable changes in recent years and months, [and] although the UEP Trust may have been used as a tool of control by the FLDS Church and Warren Jeffs in days past, those days are over," the statement says. "The board of trustees has taken great strides to assure that the UEP Trust is now a force for good."

Unlike when Jeffs ran it, the trust is now secular, though all of its beneficiaries are current or former FLDS members or their heirs. In the past year, decision-making has shifted from a court-appointed fiduciary in Salt Lake City to a seven-person board that meets in Hildale and Colorado City to distribute homes and handle other administrative duties. It was that board that approved the settlement with Wall, Barlow said.

"They understand Elissa better," Barlow said. "They know what things matter to her."

remims@sltrib.com, ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims, @natecarlisle

 

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