Utah installs new financial officer in public school run by polygamist cult

HEBER CITY, Utah — A public school run by the Kingston polygamist group received a new state-appointed finance officer on Thursday as it continues to spend taxpayer dollars on family businesses.

Dozens of Vanguard Academy parents attended a Utah State Charter School Board (SCSB) meeting in Heber City, urging the state to stop trying to fire its school board, the nine-person voting body on school expenses.

Some parents were angry. Others cried.

Neither parent has addressed the million-dollar taxpayer payments to Kingston businesses first revealed by FOX 13 News in 2020 and later confirmed by the state.

“When my four older children went to public school, they were treated differently,” one parent said. “They were focused on not being singled out.”

SCSB executive director Jennifer Lambert noted that charter schools in Utah are actually public schools, not designed for members of a specific culture to congregate.

In August, the SCSB voted to remove and replace all nine members of Vanguard Academy’s Board of Trustees.

Since then, Vanguard Academy has publicly considered becoming a private school.

The board will not be removed until October at the earliest, depending on the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Vanguard Academy.

Dave Mortensen, a school lawyer, fought to save Vanguard Academy’s board of trustees. He did not object to the appointment of a new principal or financial officer at the school.

The SCSB has appointed Moss Adams, an accountancy firm with operations across the United States, as the new chief financial officer of Vanguard Academy. The state has expressed optimism that Moss Adams will hold the school accountable for its taxpayer dollar expenditures.

The state has yet to name a new head of Vanguard Academy.

Mark Ursic, the current headmaster of Renaissance Academy, was originally considered for the Vanguard Academy position, but was ultimately not approved due to the potential appearance of bias.

According to an email obtained by FOX 13 News, he called the Kingston group a “criminal syndicate.”

“Based on what was presented at the SCSB meeting and a review of their finances, there is no doubt that they are a criminal syndicate – they also happen to be polygamists,” Ursic wrote. “Do you think if I gave jobs to all my family members, paid them 25% below market wages, violated procurement laws, and rented my own school building for 1 million a year the state would look the other way because I only have one wife?”

Ursic’s statements echo comments made by former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who prosecuted members of the Kingston group and called them an “organized crime family.”

AFTER: Lawsuit accuses polygamous cult of trafficking children for sex and labor

Ursic said he understands the SCSB’s decision not to appoint him as director of Vanguard Academy, but he stood by his email.

He cited court documents filed by Kent Ortell Pollard Bull, the son of Vanguard Academy board member Kent Johnson.

Bull is one of several former members of the Kingston band who told the state how Paul Kingston – the band’s leader and prophet – controls everyone’s money in the band.

“That’s the definition of a criminal syndicate,” Ursic said. “You have parents in there who want the best for their kids, and I support that 100 per cent, but we have to do it and follow the rules. Some of them aren’t rules. They’re laws.

Amanda Rae, another former member of the Kingston band, spoke to FOX 13 News in January 2021 about how money is spent within the band.

“From day one, they teach you how important consecration is,” she explained. “Everything you own, all your going in and out, must be ‘in the name of the Lord’.”

The state has yet to provide a timeline for installing a new principal at Vanguard Academy.

Ursic said he thinks it wouldn’t matter unless a judge clears Vanguard Academy’s board replacement in October as well.

“We should all support this kind of transparency, because it’s not our money.”

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