SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Attorney General's Office has asked that evictions of Fundamentalist LDS faithful from land under control of the courts be halted, at least while the search for the last remaining victim of the Hildale flooding continues.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office confirmed to FOX 13 it quietly asked the court-appointed accountant who oversees the United Effort Plan Trust (UEP) halt efforts to evict people from homes under court control for not paying occupancy fees and taxes. In recent news conferences, the families of the flood victims have claimed they were being kicked out of their homes, with one man declaring it "religious genocide."
"Our family with hundreds of other families have been evicted from their homes because they will not forsake their religious beliefs," Sheldon Black, whose sons survived the flooding, told reporters on Friday.
The Utah Attorney General's Office said it wanted time for grieving and mourning before returning to court.
"The Attorney General's Office requested the fiduciary to postpone all UEP evictions to allow time to mourn the devastating losses in the community," Reyes spokeswoman Missy Larsen said in an email to FOX 13.
Last week, a flash flood ripped through Hildale, killing three women and 10 children and causing millions in property damage. Three children survived.
The UEP Trust controls most of the homes and property in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah; and Colorado City, Ariz. It was created by the FLDS Church based on the early-Mormon concept of a "united order," where everyone consecrates their property to the church, which doles it out according to wants and needs. In 2005, a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court took control of the UEP amid allegations that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and others siphoned money to keep the polygamist leader on the run.
For a decade now, the UEP has been a constant back and forth between the courts and FLDS faithful who have consistently refused to cooperate with the judge's orders under an edict from Jeffs to "answer them nothing." The UEP has racked up millions in debts and legal bills as it tries to subdivide the communal property and clear the way for private property ownership.
Recently, eviction orders have been served on people who have refused to pay occupancy fees. FLDS members, including the families of the flooding victims, have lashed out at the UEP Trust and claimed they were going to be made homeless in the midst of the tragedy.
"My heart is with the people that got hurt, killed and I think there ought to be a time for that to be absorbed and to worry about the other things later," said Jeffrey L. Shields, a lawyer for the court-appointed UEP Trust fiduciary.
But Shields took issue with FLDS members lashing out over evictions in the midst of the flooding tragedy.
"I guess I get kind of upset when they use the natural disaster, which I don't think anyone could have stopped, to promote their political agenda in front of the tragedy and not worrying about the children and women who were killed and their families," he said.