Under Siege

Polygamists are barricading their homes in the midst of mounting legal assaults by authorities

In September and October 2004, the UEP announced it was selling three-plus acres of land beneath the trust's most valuable business asset, Western Precision Inc., to the FLDS owners of the company for $25,000. The land is worth about $140,000.

A source familiar with the transaction says Jeffs, as the religious leader of Western Precision's owners, would retain control of the land and, for that matter, the entire $3 million company after the transfer.

Western Precision operates a 52,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Hildale that builds state-of-the-art machine tools. It has a wide range of customers, including the Department of Defense, and employs more than 100 workers.

Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith
Fundamentalist Mormon polygamists are building imposing walls around the perimeter of their homes in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.
Mark Folkerson
Fundamentalist Mormon polygamists are building imposing walls around the perimeter of their homes in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

In another September 2004 deal, the UEP transferred 1,311 acres of ranch land a few miles northwest of Colorado City to a company allegedly controlled by FLDS insiders. Once again, no property appeared to have been removed from Jeffs' control, even though the land was sold for a purported $4 million.

The flurry of shady UEP real estate transactions set the stage for a remarkable development when lawyers for Brent Jeffs and the dispossessed young men asked a Utah state court in February to remove the UEP trustees, including Warren Jeffs.

The request meant that the plaintiffs in the two lawsuits were willing to sacrifice their chance to take control of the rich UEP trust. Roger Hoole, a Salt Lake City attorney representing the plaintiffs in the suit, says his clients' main objective is protecting the UEP trust for the benefit of current and former rank-and-file church families.

The plaintiffs' request for removing the UEP trustees led to the Arizona and Utah attorneys general intervening in the cases.

Both states supported removal of the FLDS trustees. A Utah state court in June stripped Jeffs and other FLDS leaders of their trusteeships and appointed Wisan as special fiduciary. The FLDS prophet's ironclad control over the UEP trust -- which started 63 years ago with the ownership of a few acres and grew to a $100 million empire -- was over.

Wisan immediately initiated legal action to at least temporarily stop the sale of the Western Precision property and the 1,300 acres of ranch land to FLDS insiders. A Utah state court is scheduled to consider the disposition of the property later this year.

The bigger problem for Wisan, though, will be raising the more than $1 million in property taxes from FLDS families in Colorado City and Hildale after Warren Jeffs has ordered FLDS faithful not to cooperate with him.

Wisan says he hopes the taxes will be paid. But if they are not, what will tax officials do to collect the levies?

Some authorities suspect that the potential for a property tax boycott is one reason the walls have gone up around homes in the fundamentalist towns, though it would be years before the property could be seized for non-payment.

Short of eventual seizures, attempting to get past those walls and collect the taxes in person could be difficult and potentially dangerous for county officials.

Despite no longer being in legal control of the United Effort Plan and its assets, FLDS leaders have continued to oversee the demolition of UEP-owned buildings and the evictions of dissidents from UEP-owned houses.

And the Colorado City Marshal's Office, the local police force, has been right there to enforce the orders of Warren Jeffs and his lieutenants.

In one instance, Colorado City police did not obtain a court order before proceeding with a July 24 eviction.

They arrested the occupant of the home, Andrew Chatwin, on trespassing charges, and the local cops then assisted FLDS members in removing the personal property of Chatwin and his family from the house.

FLDS members spent several days rebuilding the interior of the house to "purify" it for an occupant approved by the prophet. In church theology, Chatwin is the worst kind of sinner -- someone who has willingly left the church after receiving its teachings and baptism. Such defectors, along with those kicked out of the church by FLDS leaders, are called apostates.

"They started working on the house at 12:30 that night and they stayed on it three days until they moved somebody else in," Chatwin says.

City-owned garbage trucks were dispatched to the site to haul away debris ripped from the UEP-owned structure.

Chatwin says the FLDS routinely moves families out of houses without the permission of Wisan, the court-ordered legal fiduciary of the UEP trust.

His eviction, Chatwin says, proves that UEP trustees have no intention of submitting to their court-ordered removal.

That the Colorado City cops are helping the ousted UEP trustees enforce their mandates is no surprise. They have long put religious rules ahead of civil law.

For instance, the local police force traditionally brushes aside complaints of incest and rape, court and police records show.

After decades of inaction, Arizona law enforcement officials are attempting to rein in the renegade Colorado City department by stripping polygamist officers of their state law enforcement certifications.

Two Colorado City policemen, including longtime Chief of Police Sam Roundy, are expected to have their Arizona police certifications rescinded for violating their oath to uphold the Arizona Constitution.

Neither man appeared at hearings before the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board recently. A formal vote of the AZ POST to strip them of the police certifications is expected next month.

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