Salt Lake City – The 13 finalists unveiled Thursday for a board that will oversee the redistribution of about 750 homes and parcels of property in Warren Jeffs’ polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border includes nine members of the community but no current followers of Jeffs.
The list was announced by Utah Third District Court Judge Denise Lindberg, who made public the names of candidates who passed background checks and met minimum requirements set out by judicial order. There were 24 people who applied.
The homes in the trust are part of a trust that has been tied up in the courts since it was seized by Utah in 2005 over allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs and other leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The state’s goal has always been to return the homes and a scattering of property – worth an estimated $118 million – to community members. The creation of board is a key step toward a resolution.
The public has seven days to send comments about the candidates. After that, Lindberg will meet with the finalists with a goal of picking a board of five, seven or nine people. There is no set time limit on making a decision.
If she doesn’t think she can put together a group of people who will “act independently and in the best interests” of everyone with a stake in the trust, Lindberg could scrap the idea of forming the board and keep the trust in the court’s hands.
Bruce Wisan, a Salt Lake City accountant who was put in charge of the trust and knows the community well, doesn’t think that will happen. He said nine of them live in Colorado City, Ariz., or Hildale, Utah, collectively known as Short Creek. Three of the applicants have been members of an advisory board that has worked with him for years.
“It’s about what I expected. I think it’s a good list,” Wisan said. “I think they’ll be a good board that can come out of that.”
The finalists are: Gregory Barlow, Jethro Barlow, Deloy Bateman, Margaret Cooke, M. Jvar Dutson, Holly Ernest, Sheleigh Harding, Thomas A. Holm, Michael Hughes, Willie Jessop, Arnold Richter, Lane Ronnow and Don Timpson.
Jessop is a well-known former bodyguard of Jeffs who has left the sect. Bateman, Cooke and Timpson have been on Wisan’s advisory board.
“They’d make great board members,” Wisan said of his board members.
None of the finalists are members of Jeffs’ sect. That’s because their jailed leader has made it clear they are not to participate, Wisan said.
Wisan recently spoke with a follower of Jeffs who he said would have made a great board member. Wisan said he asked him to consider, but the man told him merely applying would mean getting kicked out of the sect.
“He doesn’t want to lose his family,” Wisan said.
Many of the estimated 7,500 people living in the communities are still followers of Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two underage girls he considered his brides. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Jeffs is trying to lead the sect from jail.