Utah AG tours polygamous sect border towns

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HILDALE, Utah (AP) -- Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff spent two days this week touring twin border towns run by a polygamous sect as part of an effort to resolve a dispute over the group's communal property trust.

Shurtleff toured a farm in Beryl, Utah, on Wednesday and the communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., on Thursday.

The communities are home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The land and homes in each town are held by the United Effort Plan Trust, the property trust of the FLDS church.

Shurtleff's office sought control of the trust in 2005, after allegations of mismanagement by church leaders. A court-appointed accountant has managed it since and sold off some land to pay for administrative and legal fees. The trust holds only property and has no cash accounts.

The sides are now in talks aimed at resolving lawsuits and ownership issues that that will preserve the communities.

The negotiations began last month just as accountant Bruce Wisan sought court permission to sell Berry Knoll, a parcel of grazing and farm land in northern Arizona the FLDS had designated as the future site of religious temple.

Previously, the FLDS had observed a silent protest of the takeover by actively ignoring Wisan's authority to manage the trust.

Shurtleff's office is playing a key role in the negotiations. "I couldn't be happier that we're talking face-to-face," Shurtleff told The Salt Lake Tribune. "I am very positive this whole UEP thing can be resolved."

Shurtleff said he is "sorting out" his feelings about the trip and meetings with members of the FLDS community. "Obviously, I've heard one side of story for a long time and I'm hearing a different side of the story," he said. "The truth is somewhere in the middle of all that."

FLDS attorney Jim Bradshaw described the meetings with Shurtleff as "very productive." Church spokesman Willie Jessop told the Deseret News church members were excited to provide Shurtleff with their point of view. "We feel like it's the first time we feel like we have the opportunity to provide something besides a perspective of only hate groups against us," Jessop said.

FLDS attorney Jim Bradshaw said the meetings were productive. "There are a lot of really challenging and difficult issues, but we're trying to work through them," said Bradshaw.

Among the issues to resolve are how to pay Wisan and his lawyers an estimated $2 million in outstanding fees, home ownership or residency for FLDS and non-FLDS members, implementation of a subdivision plan for the communities and a new trust board that includes non-FLDS members.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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