FLDS trust overseer retires amid prostitution-related charge

By Emiley Morgan, Deseret News

Published: Tue, Aug. 12, 2014, 5:25 p.m. MDT

 Bruce Wisan speaks during a court hearing concerning Utah's management of the United Effort Plan Trust on Feb. 15, 2013, in Salt Lake City. He has been charged with patronizing a prostitute, a class B misdemeanor, which compelled him to retire Monday as partner in the accounting firm he helped found and calls into question his role as the trust's fiduciary.

Bruce Wisan speaks during a court hearing concerning Utah's management of the United Effort Plan Trust on Feb. 15, 2013, in Salt Lake City. He has been charged with patronizing a prostitute, a class B misdemeanor, which compelled him to retire Monday as partner in the accounting firm he helped found and calls into question his role as the trust's fiduciary.

(Trent Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — A man appointed by the state to manage a polygamist sect's trust has retired from the accounting firm he helped found after he was charged with patronizing a prostitute.

The class B misdemeanor was filed against Bruce Wisan, 68, last week in Taylorsville City Justice Court, compelling Wisan to retire and calling into question whether he will continue in his role as the special fiduciary overseeing the Fundamentalist LDS Church's United Effort Plan Trust.

Jeffrey Shields, attorney for the trust, said Wisan addressed the issue himself at two separate meetings in Colorado City, Arizona, over the weekend.

"He said, 'I may or may not resign, I may be asked to resign, I don't know,'" Shields recounted, before adding that the decision could likely come from a judge. "It's premature to predict."

The United Effort Plan was created by the FLDS Church in 1942 on the concept of a "united order," allowing followers to share in its assets. Utah's state courts seized control of the FLDS trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by church leaders.

Valued at more than $110 million, the trust holds most of the property and homes in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City. The church also holds property in Bountiful, British Columbia, and Eldorado, Texas.

Wisan, an accountant, was appointed by a judge to oversee the trust.

On Aug. 5, charges were filed stemming from an incident on March 20, 2013, alleging that Wisan was found in a room at the Homewood Suites, 5683 S. Redwood Road, with a prostitute. According to charging documents, officers were called about an alleged assault and were allowed into the room by a woman.

They observed a man running into a bathroom as they entered.

"The female stated that the male was her uncle," the charges state, noting that the man appeared to be pulling up his pants before running into the bathroom.

Officers ordered the man to exit the bathroom to verify he was not a suspect in the reported assault, and the man complied. The officers asked for identification and the man produced a driver's license, identifying him as Wisan. He said he was not the woman's relative but was a "close friend" who met the woman through a classified ad three weeks before.

"The defendant (Wisan) stated to officers that he was only helping the female out financially until she could get back on her feet," the charges state.

The woman initially denied that there was any sexual contact but said Wisan helped her financially. She later told police about some sexual activity, the charges state.

Wisan apparently also "admitted to showering with the female" but hesitated to say anything when asked about sexual activity. Wisan has been summoned to appear in court on Oct. 9.

A woman reached at the office of Wisan's attorney, Catherine Cleveland, said Cleveland had no comment. A call to Wisan was not immediately returned.

In a deposition taken in a separate case pending in 3rd District Court — a personal injury lawsuit filed by a former FLDS woman, Elissa Wall, who was married at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin — and filed as part of a memorandum, Wisan is asked by Wall's attorney about the prostitution incident and again reiterates he was there to help the woman. He is also asked whether Willie Jessop, a longtime spokesman for the sect who was eventually ousted, knew about the prostitute and whether he ever approached Wisan about the topic "when he wanted a sweetheart deal on his property."

Wisan denied that Jessop knew of the woman, approached him about the alleged incident or tried to use information about it to his advantage.

"Have you been approached by anybody else regarding UEP matters about this matter?" attorney Alan Mortensen asked.

"No," Wisan responded.

Monday, it was announced that Wisan was retiring from his position at Wisan, Smith, Racker & Prescott LLP, the accounting firm he helped found in 1985. Val Oveson, a partner and spokesman for the firm, said the criminal allegations played a part in the announcement.

"The decision to retire was motivated out of that," Oveson said. "It was a mutual decision in the end. We will miss him and his influence with building the clientele in the firm that we have, but it's a really unfortunate series of events that took place. It very much had a bearing on what happened."

He said Wisan was key to the firm's development, but that the firm is looking forward. Wisan's co-founder, Steven R. Smith, will take over as managing partner.

"We're committed to serving our clients and moving down the road with new leadership," Oveson said. "We've got nearly 70 people in the firm, and their livelihoods and interest are very prominent in our minds."

As Shields indicated, it is unclear what impact the criminal case will have on Wisan's role as a court-appointed fiduciary.

"It will be addressed, I just don't know when," Shields said. "He was appointed by the judge. … Ultimately the judge will decide whether he is replaced or not."

The Utah Attorney General's Office declined to comment Tuesday.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

1. Eliyahu
Pleasant Grove, UT,
Aug. 13, 2014

Unless he was accused of using trust funds to pay this young woman, what is the connection between the charges he faces and his ability to administer the assets of the FLDS case? The US is just about the only first-world country where one's personal conduct becomes an issue that requires being sacked from a job even if there isn't any nexus between the conduct and the job.

2. curbee
North Las Vegas, NV,
Aug. 13, 2014

Eliyahu, spoken like a true patriot! I am so sick of Americans knocking the United States, especially when it's unfounded. When did patriotism and morality get so seriously out of fashion. The connection is the marketing of your company. Most people like to think their financial advisors have morals. When they do something illegal, it kind of puts the clients on edge. We are not the only first class country that has done that. In fact, even state leaders in liberal countries have ousted people for the same. It is moral responsible behavior.

3. SharpHooks
Lake Sammamish, WA,
Aug. 13, 2014

@ Maple Don

You MUST be a fan...you know about their coverage.

4. Esquire
Springville, UT,
Aug. 13, 2014

So, a polygamous group, has its assets in a trust controlled by the state, which is managed by an accountant who allegedly consorted with a prostitute. Wow, Utah, that's quite a story!

5. Eliyahu
Pleasant Grove, UT,
Aug. 13, 2014

North Las Vegas, NV

"Eliyahu, spoken like a true patriot!" (Rest of diatribe omitted)

Before you start questioning my patriotism, I'm a service-connected disabled combat veteran, and my family has served in every US war and conflict back to the American Revolution. You're also making the error of equating every accountant and bureaucrat with national leaders. This guy wasn't an elected leader or someone who's supposedly setting the values for the nation or state. He was hired to deal with the assets of a group convicted of criminal activity. Nothing more. Unless you plan to delegate all such duties to the church presidency, you're going to have people who make mistakes in their personal lives doing public jobs.