Utah AG to pay for polygamous takeover

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah has been ordered to pay $5.7 million for its takeover of the assets held by a polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border.

The Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday that the money is owed to court-appointed accountants overseeing a takeover engineered by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who tried to delay paying until the sale of the sect’s assets brought some cash.

The ruling complicated a 2005 takeover that was troubled almost from the start, leaving the state with a bill it did not expect.

“Nobody has $5.7 million sitting around,” Shurtleff said Friday, adding that it may take an emergency legislative session to produce the money.

Shurtleff plans to hand the bill to the Utah Legislature for payment. He said he was under a lower-court deadline to pay the bill by earlier this week, but it could take months longer.

Lawsuits against the state’s intervention and a federal court ruling have frozen many of the assets of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including homes and a farm.

Residents of the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., would be required to pay for their homes, which have been held as communal property, under any asset sale.

The money is owed to Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan, his attorneys and other firms hired to dissolve the $100 million communal land trust once controlled by jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas after convictions on child sex and bigamy charges. He is said to still maintain control of the communities through surrogates from behind bars.

Shurtleff’s office had argued no Utah court could order a state agency to pay a bill that was supposed to be satisfied another way.

The Utah Supreme Court rejected that argument.

“If this were the case, any monetary judgment against the state would be a constitutional separation of powers violation,” the justices ruled 5-0.

At another point, Shurtleff wanted Arizona to help pay the bill, but Arizona said it had no dog in the fight and that Utah couldn’t order it around.

Shurtleff took over the sect’s financial affairs by arguing that FLDS officials were mismanaging the trust and refusing to pay legal judgments against them. He believed the accountants and lawyers could pay themselves from “occupancy fees” from FLDS members and the eventual sale of assets.

FLDS members, however, have largely refused to cooperate and went to federal court to block the sale of assets.

Wisan says he hasn’t been paid since 2008.