3 FLDS members object to Berry Knoll Farm sale

Published October 19, 2008 1:14 am
Transaction would be 'an act of religious desecration' of sacred land, court filing claims
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If a proposed sale of Berry Knoll Farm is allowed to proceed, it will divest the FLDS Church of one of its most sacred sites and place it in the hands of a rival religious group, three sect members allege.

In a document filed Friday, Willie Jessop, Dan Johnson and Merlin Jessop asked a 3rd District Court judge to stop the sale and find other ways to resolve disputes related to the United Effort Plan Trust short of selling its assets.

Judge Denise Lindberg has set a hearing on the matter for Nov. 14 in St. George.

The proposed sale has drawn a public objection from Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints members, who have stayed mostly silent in the three years since the court takeover of their communal property trust.

The UEP Trust holds virtually all land and buildings in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the sect's traditional home base.

Bruce R. Wisan, the fiduciary overseeing the trust, is negotiating to sell the 711-acre farm to Kenneth Knudson, a real estate developer and member of Centennial Park, a separate polygamous community.

Knudson has proposed a housing development there.

Wisan hadn't seen the filing but said Friday, "We believe we have a very good case and don't think any of the allegations in the motion are true."

Jeff Shields, Wisan's attorney, told Lindberg earlier this month the sale is needed to resolve the trust's cash crunch. Billings through April 2008 have totaled about $3 million, though $1 million remains unpaid because the trust has no money, sect members allege.

Their filing says the sale is contrary to trust beneficiaries' interests and inappropriate given the reasons the trust was placed under court oversight.

"The court's intervention was expressly premised upon an allegation that there was an emergency need to protect the trust from a 'pattern of liquidation of trust real property at below market value,' ” their filing states. In a June 2005 ruling, Lindberg also found that the trust would be ''irreparably harmed by the continued liquidation and transfer of its property.''

The sect members say the property is being sold for $7,000 an acre - far below a $20,000 per acre value for nearby land given in a UEP court hearing a year ago by a commercial real estate broker. Either the earlier testimony was "false, or the price tag on Berry Knoll is woefully insufficient,” the filing says.

The broker was estimating value of property in Apple Valley, a growing area outside the twin towns.

As for Berry Knoll, Joseph W. Musser, an early leader in the fundamentalist Mormon movement, prophesied in 1934 it would some day be a temple site. The filing includes diary and book excerpts as well as church hymns that refer to Berry Knoll's sacred and historical significance.

It has been used as farm and grazing land.

The FLDS members claim Wisan never advertised the property for sale and instead worked an “inside deal” with Knudson, whose brother Joseph is on the priesthood council of The Work, based in Centennial Park. Members of The Work also consider the site “holy ground,” they allege.

"The mere act of vesting ownership and control of the Berry Knoll temple site to members of The Work is an act of religious desecration,” the filing states, because the two groups have competing claims to priesthood succession. “The audacious 'in your face' nature of this proposed sale is not lost on the FLDS people.”

The filing also notes Wisan plans to sell or is investigating claims on other “critical and sacred properties,” including the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.


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