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Attorneys in Utah curious about whether secret pact could lead to loss of homes for hundreds

June 24, 2014

While many in the state might be preoccupied with the new ruling in Utah’s gay marriage court battle,  other cases are flying under the media radar. Take, for example, the case of former child-bride Elissa Wall, who was married off to Allen Steed at age 14, as reported on by KUTV news. Both were members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a small, exclusive community that operates on the border of Arizona and Utah with little involvement by outsiders. Its leader, Warren Jeffs, is now serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered spiritual brides. Wall brought suit against Steed, Jeffs, the FDLS group and not surprisingly, the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust which controls much of the Arizona-Utah communities. And now, attorneys in Utah are becoming curious, wanting to know exactly what kind of communication has been going on between Wall and Steed.

And not just any attorney, the attorney. “The Utah Attorney General’s Office has submitted court papers “to intervene” and “uncover ‘the purpose of the settlement agreement’ between Wall and the man she said she was forced to marry, Allen Steed.” Part of the problem, say attorneys in Utah like Joseph Stewart, is that the UEP trust is thought to be worth around $120 million, and Wall is suing for about $40 million in damages. The funds from that trust are used to administer power and provide water to homes in the FLDS community on the AZ/UT border, so weakening the account by that much “could leave dozens, if not hundreds of families without homes.”

The Utah attorney general’s curiosity began back in 2011, when, in the settlement agreement between each other, Wall and Steed specified that they’d be nice to one another. Not only that, but that “neither Steed nor his counsel will participate in the civil action in a manner that is confrontational or adversarial in regards to Wall or her legal interests, nor assist the Trust in any way in defending itself against Wall’s claims.” Such language, along with the fact that Wall refused to speak about Steed in a recent deposition, usually clues us into the idea that something else is going on—another, more detailed, secret agreement might have been made, say attorneys in Utah like Stewart.

The AG thinks that something may be going on to defraud the UEP trust, and wants to draw out information from either Wall or Steed (or both) without threatening them with criminal implications. Wall spoke at Steed’s sentencing, saying that he was also a victim of Jeff’s control, and Steed spent 30 days in jail before being placed on probation. It may be impossible to know what attorneys in Utah want to find out—members of the FLDS group are good at keeping to themselves. But it’s interesting and worth noting that the attorney general is suspicious enough to use legal might to try to break into what might be more criminal activity.

 

 

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