SALT LAKE CITY – A federal judge in Utah has handed control of a $114 million communal land trust back to the leaders of Warren Jeffs’ polygamous church.

In an interim preliminary injunction order signed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said church leaders, not the state of Utah, should manage the more than $110 million in assets held by the United Effort Plan Trust.

The trust holds most of the property and homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., two nearby communities dominated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There is also property in Bountiful, British Columbia.

Utah state courts seized control of the trust in 2005 after state attorneys said Jeffs and other church leaders had used it for their own benefit and left property holdings vulnerable to liquidation through default judgments in civil lawsuits.

The next year, a state judge allowed the trust to be stripped of its religious tenets and opened its class of beneficiaries to former church members. Some 6,000 of the church’s 10,000 members then sued in federal court.

In February, Benson ruled that Utah’s actions amounted to a government takeover that violated the religious rights of the church.

An appeal of the ruling was filed earlier this month with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver by the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona, Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed accountant who currently manages the trust, and others who believe the federal court may not have the right to overturn the decisions made by a state judge.

 


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