SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Fourteen families who live in a community once controlled by polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs could be evicted from their homes on the Utah-Arizona border in the coming weeks if they don't begin paying a $100-a-month fee to authorities appointed to oversee their property.
Eviction notices began going out about two weeks ago to people who have not paid the fee in the nine years since the state of Utah seized a trust that holds most of the land and houses in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, amid allegations of mismanagement by polygamous leaders.
"Our goal is not to evict anyone, it's just to get them to pay," said Jeffrey Shields, an attorney for the accountant appointed by the state to manage the trust. Residents can stop the eviction process by agreeing to pay the fee, he said, and two have already done so.
Many of those who live in the community are followers of Jeffs, who maintains control of the group despite serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered wives.
But not all of those who got eviction notices are part of the sect, trust employee Isaac Wyler said. He taped notices to doors of a handful of homes in Hildale. Chosen arbitrarily based on location, the homes represent only a few of those who collectively owe millions in back occupancy fees.
Some residents have refused to pay on the instructions of polygamous leaders, said resident Lorin Holm, a former member of Jeffs' group. Others who aren't part of the sect have said they don't pay because they don't have a say in how the trust is run.
Furthermore, the fee can rankle because some residents can trace their property back for generations and most built their homes.
"Everyone says, 'Why do we have to pay for our homes?'" Holm said. "I built my home, it's a million-dollar home, and now they want $100 a month?"
Residents at all the homes at risk of eviction have signed occupancy permits agreeing to pay the fee, though in some cases the person who signed no longer lives in the home.
The sect is known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream church and its 15 million members worldwide abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibit it.
A state judge ordered the eviction process to begin in June and has expressed frustration with residents.
"We have had a free-rider problem here for a long time," Judge Denise Lindberg said at a court hearing. "There needs to be action, or otherwise the law means nothing."
Combined unpaid occupancy fees totaled $4.18 million at the end of 2013, The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this year.
Lindberg said she wants to hand control of the trust to a board that will oversee the redistribution of about 750 homes but needs a revenue stream first.
Bruce Wisan, the accountant who manages the trust, said this month that he would start giving 26 homes back to people who agreed to pay an approximately $6,500 land-transfer fee for a 1-acre parcel.