Ten former members of a Utah-based polygamist cult known as the Kingston Group are seeking punitive damages from the organization after they say it subjected them to years of unpaid labor, sexual abuse and human trafficking.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, the ex-cult members allege: [Kingston Group] is able to illegally make religious martyrs of girls and their children and traffic them for sex and labor.
The lawsuit contains explicit details of how executives of the Kingston Group – which also owns and operates several businesses and schools in the suburb of Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City – allegedly arranged incestuous and sometimes underage marriages between teenage girls and high-status adult men to produce hundreds of children.
The lawsuit alleges episodes of rape aimed at forcing a pregnancy, members of the group covering up years of sexual abuse and indoctrinating elementary school children about plural marriage.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Roger Hoole declined to elaborate beyond his clients’ lawsuit or respond to requests for interviews with former band members.
In response to the allegations against it, the Kingston group – also known officially as the Davis County Cooperative Society and internally as “The Order” – said its current policy prohibits plural marriage for members. under 18 years old. They also claimed to believe that marriage is a personal choice that should not be coerced.
“Members are encouraged to seek advice from their parents or through personal inspiration, but ultimately the decision must be theirs,” the group said in its response to the lawsuit.
The group added: “Once an individual has made a decision on whom to marry, members are encouraged to seek the blessing of parents, family and/or church leaders, but to say that an individual chooses or strongly influences who will marry which is quite inaccurate. »
Nine of the plaintiffs say the Kingston group started them working during their elementary or preschool days through their late teens. None of them received a salary, they claim.
In her complaint, Amanda Rae Grant claims she was assigned to work in her early teens at Advance Copy, where wedding announcements and invitations were printed because “wedding photos of little girls marrying men incestuous or plural marriages could not be printed at Walmart”. .
Another complainant, Jeremy Roberts, said he started working four hours a day – year-round – on a farm run by the Order when he was seven or eight years old. He was reportedly told his hourly wage was $3.23.
By the time he was 12, Roberts said, he was working 12-hour shifts at a mine operated by the Order.
The Kingston Group has denied allegations that children were working for their companies. The group also said its business owners are strongly encouraged to follow all applicable laws when hiring, employing and compensating their employees.
“Bleed the Beast”
The allegations the Kingston group is facing come after the state of Utah effectively decriminalized polygamy between consenting adults in 2020, making plural marriage an offense similar in severity to a speeding ticket. However, if a spouse is coerced or underage in a plural marriage in Utah, it becomes a crime.
This marked the final chapter in Utah’s long and complicated history with polygamy. To help Utah become a state, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a manifesto ending polygamy as a practice in 1890.
However, more than 130 years later, polygamous sects exist in close-knit colonies across the state, including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), led by its imprisoned and rapist leader. convict Warren Jeffs.
Pro-polygamy groups estimate that there are approximately 30,000 to 40,000 people in Utah who live in polygamous communities. The Kingston Group declined to confirm the number of its members.
While the Kingston group, founded in 1935, is not affiliated with the FLDS, members practice a fundamentalist version of Mormonism that involves polygamy. Members are primarily born into the organization whose leader Paul Elden Kingston is known as “the man in the watchtower”.
The lawsuit against the group is not the first time it has faced media scrutiny or legal peril. In August, the Utah State Charter School Board asked the Kingston group’s charter school, Vanguard Academy, to replace all nine members of its board of trustees after various violations and repeated.
Officials alleged that headteachers hired Kingston-related companies and paid them with taxpayer dollars, Salt Lake City news channel KUTV reported.
Vanguard Academy executives sued state charter school officials in response, and a judge issued a restraining order that kept the targeted board members in office. The school faces a three-month probation during which it is required to rectify its issues or face closure.
Meanwhile, in July 2019, four Kingston family members pleaded guilty to fraud charges after federal authorities established that a company run by the Order – Washakie Renewable Energy – had stolen half a billion dollars. dollars in biodiesel tax credits and laundered it through front companies.
The lawsuit cites Washakie Renewable Energy as an example of the group’s many attempts to defraud the government.
“Sometimes the Order asks members to falsify and fabricate documents, often against their will, to further [their] personal interests,” the lawsuit alleges.
The plaintiffs’ complaint added that these practices facilitated the Kingston group’s so-called attempts to “bleed the beast” – a term used in polygamous communities to describe how they can benefit by defrauding the government and its taxpayers.
The Kingston group said the concept of “bleeding the beast” is “abhorrent” and has “never been a tenet” of its organization.
The group argued that its values call for self-sufficiency and that, on a per capita basis, its members save or contribute more to their community than the average citizen.
However, the fraud charges facing the Kingston Group extend well beyond Washakie and other businesses run by The Order.
The lawsuit explains how the birth certificates of several plaintiffs did not list their biological fathers, so these men could escape the legal ramifications of having multiple – and often underage – wives.
Two of the plaintiffs — Michelle Afton Michaels, 22, and LaDonna “Blaklyn” Ruth Lancaster, 18 — share the same father, Jesse Orvil Kingston, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that members of Kingston’s family attempt to preserve the purity of their blood – which they refer to as “pure Kingston blood” – by intermarrying and procreating with other Kingstons.
The group has called the term “Pure Kingston Blood” “marginal, unfamiliar and somewhat offensive” to its members, and it rejects any preference for any particular family or lineage.
Jesse Orvil Kingston is not listed on Michaels or Lancaster’s birth certificates, according to the lawsuit, which further accuses him of having fathered more than 300 children with 14 wives.
The Guardian does not generally identify people who claim to be victims of sexual violence, but the publicly available lawsuit identifies Michaels, Lancaster and other complainants by name.
Amanda Rae Grant alleges her father is Verl Johnson, accusing him of marrying 17-year-old Lori Peterson and two others to have 33 children.
Instead of being listed on his birth certificate, Grant says the document listed a fictitious father named Kyle Grant.
The lawsuit claims that Utah state officials went so far as to track down a man named Kyle Grant in an effort to collect child support, but concluded he was not the father of Amanda Rae Grant.
“It was told as a funny story in Amanda’s family,” the lawsuit alleges.
The Kingston Group argued that it is the prerogative of parents “to classify the birth records of their children in any manner they choose within the limits of the law”.
“This is especially true of the mother, who has the legal right to establish paternity or not at the time of filing,” the Kingston Group said in a statement. The statement adds that the group “has not issued specific guidelines for members regarding birth certificates or medical records, but encourages its members to follow the law.”
One of the most shocking allegations in the trial involves claims by plaintiff Jenny Kingston, 25, that her parents sent her to a rehabilitation center named Lifeline for Youth for six months to punish her for resisting. to her marriage to Jacob Daniel Kingston Jr, the son of Washakie Energy Company boss.
She accuses Kingston Jr of physically overpowering and raping her to try to get her pregnant. Members of the group knew about the abuse, according to her complaint, but did not report or stop it. Instead, she claims they used the band’s money to get her in vitro fertilization treatment.
She then fled the group with her twin children.