Utah Attorney General meeting with polygamous sect leaders

SALT LAKE CITY - State officials on Friday began the long-overdue process of formulating a plan to redistribute property and businesses on the Utah-Arizona border belonging to a polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs.

The meeting comes seven years after the state of Utah first seized control of properties in Hilldale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints following allegations of financial mismanagement by Jeffs and other church leaders.

The Utah Attorney's General office presented four options to current and former church members: creating a board of trustees that can function with limited court involvement; dissolving the trust and letting the community decide how to redistribute the properties; dissolving the trust, auctioning off properties and giving people credits to buy them, and negotiating a new settlement.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who arrived late due to travel delays, called it an opportunity for members, non-members and ex-members of the FLDS church to ensure they don't come away empty handed.

State officials stressed the options were merely ideas, not final proposals, though those at the meeting expressed the most support for the option allowing the community to decide on the property distribution.

Any plan must be approved by the 3rd District Court.

Utah took over a church trust that controls the properties in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by church leaders. The state, which has a statutory duty to protect charitable trusts, stepped in because the trustees failed to respond to lawsuits, said Utah Attorney General spokesman Paul Murphy.

A November federal appeals court ruling cleared the way for the state to break up the church trust and sell homes, businesses and farms in the two small towns.

Shurtleff said the process of sorting out the property was never intended to last this many years.

"I would like to see this well on its way before I leave office," said Shurtleff, who has about five weeks left on the job as the outgoing attorney general. "That's why we are here tonight."

Shurtleff conceded that he can't stop people from getting property and giving it back to the church, but delivered a passionate plea during the meeting to spread the truth about Warren Jeffs. He also said multiple claims on some of the homes could be possible.

Jeffs, who remains jailed in Texas, leads about 10,000 people in the sect, which is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

"We need you to tell them the truth about Warren Jeffs. He is a convicted child rapist," Shurtleff said. "He is never coming out of prison."

He said he hopes most of the people recognize who Jeffs is and will move on.

Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed trust manager, suggested distribution should be handled on a case-by-case basis and with as minimal disruption as possible. He spoke at length about the option of letting community members decide how to redistribute the homes and property.

Bill Richards, an attorney representing the Arizona attorney general's office, said there is no way to know how long this process will take. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne did not attend.

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