Seven young men have partially settled lawsuits that led to the state’s takeover of a property trust once overseen by polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs.
The agreement resolves claims against the United Effort Plan Trust, which has been under court oversight since May 2005, in a deal that includes land, an assistance fund and attorney fees.
The settlements, which still need court approval, give each plaintiff title to a 3-acre, undeveloped lot near a community park in Maxwell Canyon. The canyon is located in Hildale, which along with Colorado City, Ariz., is home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The six men who sued alleged they were “systematically” driven out of the community by the church and Jeffs; the seventh alleged he was sexually abused by Jeffs about 20 years ago.
The six plaintiffs are Richard Jessop Ream, 25; Thomas Samuel Steed, 21; Don R. Fischer, 22; Dean J. Barlow, 22; Walter S. Fischer, 24, and Richard Gilbert, 22. The man claiming sexual abuse is Brent Jeffs, 24.
The agreement also calls for creation of a $250,000 Lost Boys Assistance and Education Fund to provide emergency aid and education and housing help for people displaced from their families or the community. It will receive $50,000 a year through 2011 or earlier, depending on requests for help.
Of that, $10,000 allotments will be given to the law firm of Hoole & King, which represented the seven men, to supply food, shelter and other short-term help to people leaving the twin towns.
And it provides $100,000 to Baltimore attorney Joanne Suder, who initially filed the lawsuits on behalf of the men.
The settlement leaves intact claims against Jeffs, the FLDS church and other individuals associated with it.
Jeffs, 51, is in the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, awaiting trial on two counts of being an accomplice to rape for allegedly conducting an arranged marriage in 2001 to which the 14-year-old bride had objected.
The young woman, identified as “Jane Doe” in that case, also has sued the UEP Trustunder the pseudonym “M.J.” Her claim is not part of the settlement.
Attorney Roger Hoole said that the lawsuits were about “solving problems, not seeking money.”
In a statement, he said: “If these young men could send a message to their families and the FLDS people, it would simply be to stay in your homes, keep your families together and don’t automatically follow the next leaders who will try to exercise control over the people.”
Jeff Shields, attorney for court-appointed trust fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan, said the settlement avoids a “huge lawsuit that would have taken years to defend” and have been far more costly.
The pair of lawsuits, filed in 2004, led the Utah Attorney General’s Office to seek court oversight of the UEP trust. The state said Jeffs and other FLDS trustees had failed to defend against the lawsuits and were selling off trust assets.
A Utah judge subsequently appointed Wisan to manage the trust.
“The courts would never have had the opportunity to intervene if the Lost Boys hadn’t filed that lawsuit,” Wisan said Thursday. “Their involvement on the front end was important and very critical.”
He added: “The trust’s position is we’re happy to benefit some of the Lost Boys to help with education and housing issues.”
Wisan said the lots in Maxwell Canyon are among the “most prized” in the community, valued at around $20,000 or more each.
Brent Jeffs filed the first lawsuit on July 29, 2004, alleging Jeffs and two of his brothers had sexually abused him in the 1980s. Brent Jeffs claimed his uncles would leave church services, escort him out of a basement room where children gathered for Sunday school lessons and then sodomize him in a nearby bathroom.
Brent Jeffs alleged his uncles told him they were “doing God’s work” and that he was not to tell anyone about their acts.
Two uncles, Leslie B. Jeffs and Blaine B. Jeffs, were dropped from the lawsuit a year ago because they had previously filed for bankruptcy, which automatically stays other court actions.
Brent Jeffs said the “whole goal” in pursuing the lawsuits was “for families to not be afraid to be families” and eliminate the threat of “having your house pulled out from under you” for disagreeing with the FLDS church.
“It is finally nice to see something positive out of all this that happened,” Brent Jeffs said.
A separate lawsuit was filed on Aug. 27, 2004, by six boys who alleged they were driven out of the twin towns for “trivial reasons” in order to reduce competition for wives.
Their lawsuit said they became “lost boys” as a result, adrift in a world they knew little about and cut off from family and friends.
Many have made their way to the Diversity Foundation, set up by former FLDS member Dan Fischer, for help with schooling, jobs and life skills training. Most of the teens have limited educations but marketable construction skills.
The foundation estimates that over the past decade, at least 400 teens have been driven out or fled the restrictive polygamous community, ending up in southern Utah, the Salt Lake City area or surrounding states.
Dan Fischer is the founder of Ultradent, a South Jordan dental products company, and is the uncle of Don and Walter Fischer. He is paying the legal fees of Roger Hoole and his brother Greg.
Many of the teens, some of whom come from plural families with 20 or more siblings, say they got in trouble for violating church standards – watching R-rated movies; hanging out with girls; using tobacco, alcohol or drugs; favoring modern clothes over the FLDS preferred conservative, body-covering apparel. Some teens say they didn’t believe in the FLDS faith, particularly as preached by Jeffs. Home life got tough for a number after Jeffs exiled their fathers and placed their mothers with other men.
Rod Parker, an attorney who previously represented the FLDS church, has characterized the so-called “Lost Boys” as juvenile delinquents who proved unmanageable for their families.
Jeffs has preached that parents need to cut off such wayward children and avoid any contact with them, saying in a July 16, 2000, sermon that to “socialize with apostates, to join with them in any way, you are choosing to get on the devil’s ground.”