The towns of Hildale and adjoining Colorado City, Arizona are known for its most famous former resident: Warren Jeffs. The notorious leader of a radical Mormon sect that practiced polygamy and allowed child rape and mandated teen marriages was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years, leaving behind his followers to fend for themselves.
Properties once owned by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Hildale are being sold off, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported. When Jeffs went to jail, the land, as well as Jeffs' house and two others went to Brielle Decker, formerly Jeffs' 65th plural wife. The arrangement was part of the United Effort Plan in Hildale to "provide for the just wants and needs of the class of persons who are the intended beneficiaries of that charitable trust," their website reads. The UEP was once the corporation owned by the church and started in 1942 by mostly polygamist Mormons seeking a communal living arrangement. Anyone who placed assets into the trust becomes an owner and a beneficiary.
The trust, however, was seized by the former attorney general of Utah after he suspected Jeffs was using the trust to fund criminal activities like the underage marriages or money laundering. Using it for illegal activity put those beneficiaries in danger of losing everything if the trust was found to be engaged in crimes. He petitioned to seize the trust and all of the assets it entailed and a judge appointed a board of trustees to begin the arduous task of distributing the assets.
Thus far, 85 percent of the land has been distributed. Ex-members who have been given land are taking down the gates and walls once used to keep prying eyes from Jeffs' activities. Some of the ex-members are also working for the trust itself, much to the chagrin of current members, who were taught never to speak to former members. Current FLDS members aren't excluded from ownership, but they're refusing the land because they think it has already been consecrated to God, the Tribune explained.
"Either they enter into agreements with apostates to their faith," Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred said, "or they lose their home."
As a result, FLDS members refusing to work with the UEP are being served eviction notices and being forced to move in with family or other followers.
The most recent acquisition is "The Big House," the home of Jeffs himself along with his late father and brothers. The huge mansions will eventually be chopped up into apartments, according to the developer.
FLDS members have historically been elected to local offices in the two cities so when the UEP began breaking up the land and evicting members, the political leaders got involved. Hildale members fought the UEP and the Utah Supreme Court decided in their favor in 2013 but Colorado City members are still fighting in court. It's meant that the Hildale side has been able to give deeds to people's homes while Colorado City cannot.
For those in Colorado City who oppose the breaking up of the land and sale to ex-members, there is an option to enter into an occupancy agreement. While ownership is opposed by the church, this arrangement is not. It's a kind of tenant agreement that lets them rent the property for an extremely low fee and allows them to do maintenance and work on the house as they see fit.
Some decided to leave their properties regardless of an occupancy agreement they previously signed, leaving many homes abandoned. Other homes have unpaid property taxes and have been foreclosed on. Those that are over three and a half years delinquent on payments are now being evicted by UEP. However, the UEP has done as much as possible to try and keep people in their homes, even offering to waive the monthly occupancy fee. They even offered to appoint an attorney that is an FLDS member if talking to ex-members was a sticking point.
"There's absolutely no reason an eviction needs to go through," UEP's executive director Jeff Barlow told the Salt Lake City Tribune.
"There's people here that are caught between a rock and a hard spot," ex-member David Bistline explained. "They have [church] leaders that are telling them one thing, and the UEP saying, 'You have to do what we want or we'll evict you.'"
Though, Bistline believes that there is a conspiracy with UEP members trying to drive FLDS members out of Hildale so that non-members can take over the government positions in the election next year. While he has left the church, his wife and 10 of his 11 children have not. He doesn't want them to be evicted. He signed the occupancy agreement but he called the moves by the UEP a form of "ethnic cleansing."
Members have tried to make things work by having families move in with each other, but it has led to some "inappropriate conduct" among youth.