Judge OKs evictions in polygamous community

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A judge has given Utah state officials the final go-ahead to enforce evictions on seven homes in Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect, giving families until the end of the day Thursday to pay up or fight it in court.

The evictions would be the first since the state took control of a trust in 2005 due to allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs and other sect leaders. The trust, created by the fundamentalist Mormon sect in 1942, has more than 700 homes and properties valued at more than $100 million in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.

This first batch of evictions was ordered by Utah state Judge Denise Lindberg, who said this summer she was fed up with a free-rider problem in the community. Out of 26 homes given evictions notices in July, only 12 agreed to pay. Seven more homes are expected to be evicted in the coming weeks. More evictions are expected to be ordered next year.

The residents are among dozens of families who haven't been paying $100-a-month occupancy fees for years, depriving the state-run trust that controls the homes of more than $4 million.

Loyal followers of Jeffs have refused to pay, arguing they shouldn't have to pay the state any money for homes they built and maintained.

It's another small but noteworthy step toward the redistribution of the homes, said Val Oveson, a spokesman for officials appointed by a Utah judge to oversee the trust. Last month, 24 families who have paid the occupancy fees and have clear claims on their homes were granted ownership of the properties. Until then, church leaders have always held the deeds while others lived in the homes.

"Eventually, everybody will be living in a home with a lease agreement and be paying the occupancy fee or they'll get a deed to their home," Oveson said.

If the families don't pay by Thursday, Washington County sheriff's deputies would enforce the evictions Friday in what is expected to be an anticlimactic event. Leaders of the sect, known as The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have already moved families out of the moves in anticipation of the evictions, officials say.

The sect 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.

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