Utah lawmakers have agreed to pay millions of dollars to the state-appointed administrator of a much-contested polygamous trust.
Lawmakers approved SB3 on Thursday, the last day of the 2013 legislative session. The bill deals with funding for state government and includes an agreement to pay $5.69 million to accountant Bruce Wisan’s office for its work on the United Effort Plan (UEP). However, most of that money will effectively be a loan from the state and must be repaid.
The UEP is a trust that owns millions of dollars in assets, including land and homes in the polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. The trust was formed by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but was taken over by the state in 2005 amid concerns about mismanagement.
When the state took over the trust, a 3rd District Court judge appointed Wisan to oversee it, but he has never been paid for his work. The $5.69 million compensates him for his work and, Wisan said in a phone conversation Friday, will allow him and his legal team to continue running the trust and working to end the state’s involvement in the case.
"This is a huge help," he said of the funding. "It’s a huge step in the right direction and we hope to resolve this appropriately within the bounds of our fiduciary duty as soon as possible."
Wisan’s legislative liaison, former Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, agreed, saying that it was a relief to finally be paid and that the money would be used to end the case.
"The payment is really going to keeping attorneys working on this so we can get it wrapped up," Oveson said.
But the money does come with some conditions. Most significantly, SB3 requires Wisan’s office to pay the state back. Wisan said the trust will repay the state by selling assets and collecting occupancy fees, among other things.
Many of the homes owned by the trust are occupied by current and former members of the FLDS church.
Other conditions include an agreement by Wisan’s office to not ask the state for more funding, and they cannot seek interest for the past eight years during which the money went unpaid. During a hearing earlier this month, Wisan and state representatives also agreed to explore the possibility of appointing a board of trustees to manage the trust.
The bill also includes a payment schedule and an incentive for Wisan to return the state money quickly. The bill states that two days after it takes effect — July 1— Wisan’s office will receive $3 million. The state will deliver another $1 million Sept. 16 and the remaining balance on March 17, 2014.
But, if Wisan returns $4 million to the state by April 1, 2014, he will not have to repay any more money.
Wisan said he thought his office could make that deadline.
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