Salt Lake City – All trustees including the reclusive leader of a Mormon splinter group which still practices polygamy were permanently removed Wednesday as managers of the church's multimillion dollar trust fund.
Warren Jeffs and five other high-ranking members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were barred by a judge from spending or selling any of the church's assets.
The assets include most of the property in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where nearly 10,000 church members live. The trust, called the United Effort Plan, also includes businesses and most homes in the two towns.
The state of Utah, fearing Jeffs was liquidating the trust as he built a new church enclave in West Texas, got a temporary restraining order last month freezing the trust's assets. An independent auditor in Salt Lake City will remain in charge of the trust until new trustees who will appointed by the court July 21 replace him.
It's not the only legal problem for Jeffs, who hasn't been seen publicly in a year, although an attorney for some church members claimed Jeffs was seen last weekend in Canada.
Jeffs was indicted in Mohave County, Ariz., earlier this month on sex-related charges for allegedly arranging a marriage between a teenage girl and a 28-year-old man who already was married.
Utah officials also are looking for Jeffs so they can serve him papers after two lawsuits filed against him, including one by Jeffs' nephew who is claiming the church president sexually abused him.
Officials worry as Jeffs and others began selling FLDS property, it would leave some out-of-favor church members fearing they could have their homes sold out from under them. There also is concern that since Jeffs is not defending himself against lawsuits, it could leave the trust vulnerable to settlements.
The exact value of the trust is unknown, although Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says it could hold as much as $100 million.
Authorities in both Utah and Arizona also have kept the church and its leaders under close scrutiny amid allegations of welfare fraud, sexual abuse and forced marriages.
Removed along with Jeffs as trustees Wednesday were Truman Barlow, LeRoy Jeffs, William E. Jessop (aka William Timpson) and James Zitting. None appeared in Third District Court to contest the removal.
Trustee Winston Blackmore was in court, but didn't contest his removal. The leader of an FLDS offshoot in Canada is on the list of eight people who could be named next month as new managers of the church's trust, originally formed six decades ago.
Besides Blackmore, other former church members among the eight are Rayo Johnson, John Neilsen, Roger Williams, Don Timpson, Carolyn Jessop and Margaret Cooke. Also nominated is Lee Van Dam, a Salt Lake-area property manager who has no connection to the church.
Excommunicated members Jessop and Cook could become the first female trustees, attorney Roger Hoole said.
Cooke, who with her eight children was kicked out of the FLDS in 1994, says the church has changed and she wants to help protect church members from losing their homes.
"Mostly for the women in general that need to have a voice in what happens to their children," she said.
Two of her daughters are still active church members.
The FLDS church traces its roots to Joseph Smith, founder of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1890, the mainstream Mormon church officially abolished plural marriage and members who advocate it are excommunicated.