Utah polygamous cult charged with indoctrination, rape and child marriage | Utah

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Ten former members of a Utah-based polygamist sect known as the Kingston Group are suing the organization after they say they subjected them to unpaid labor, sexual assault and human trafficking for years.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, the ex-members of the cult allege: “It is largely because of… illegal marriage practices that the [Kingston Group] is capable of unlawfully turning girls and their children into religious martyrs and trafficking them for sexual and labor purposes.”

The lawsuit contains explicit details about how leaders of the Kingston Group — which also own several businesses and schools in the suburbs of Utah’s capital Salt Lake City — allegedly involved incestuous and sometimes underage marriages between teenage girls and grown men with elevated status have arranged to hundreds of children.

The indictment alleges rapes with the aim of forcing a pregnancy, group members covering up years of sexual abuse and indoctrinating primary school children about plural marriage.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Roger Hoole, declined to go further than his clients’ lawsuits or respond to requests for interviews with former group members.

In response to the allegations against her, 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. They also claimed to believe that Marriage is a personal choice that should not be forced.

“Members are encouraged to prayerfully seek counsel from their parents or through personal inspiration, but ultimately the decision should be their own,” the group said in its response to the lawsuit.

The group added: “Once a person has made a decision about who to marry, members are encouraged to seek the blessing of their parents, family and/or church leaders, but to say that one person chooses or strongly influences who will marry who wholly wrong.”

Nine of the plaintiffs allege that the Kingston Group encouraged them to work from primary school or kindergarten through the late teens. None of them received a salary, they claim.

In her complaint, Amanda Rae Grant claims that in her early teens, she had to work at Advance Copy, where wedding announcements and invitations were printed, because “wedding photos of little girls marrying men in incestuous or plural marriages could not be printed at Walmart”.

Another plaintiff, 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. He is said to have been told his hourly wage was $3.23.

By the time he was 12, Roberts said, he was working 12-hour shifts at a mine the Order ran.

The Kingston Group denied allegations that children worked for their company. The group also said its business owners are strongly encouraged to follow all applicable laws when hiring, hiring and rewarding their employees.

‘Let the beast bleed’

The charges against the Kingston Group come after the state of Utah effectively decriminalized polygamy between consenting adults in 2020, making plural marriage an offense comparable in severity to a speeding fine. However, if a spouse is coerced or underage in a plural marriage in Utah, it becomes a felony.

It marked the final chapter in Utah’s long, complicated history of polygamy. To help Utah become a state, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—released a manifesto in 1890 ending polygamy as a practice.

More than 130 years later, however, polygamous sects exist in close-knit settlements throughout the state, including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), which is run by imprisoned leader and convicted rapist 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 its membership numbers.

Although 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 board of the Utah state charter school ordered that the Kingston Group-run charter school, Vanguard Academy, replace all nine members of the board of directors after multiple and repeated violations.

Officials alleged that school principals hired Kingston-affiliated companies and paid them with taxpayers’ money, the Salt Lake City television news station KUTV reported.

In response, the leaders of the Vanguard Academy have sued state charter school officials, and a judge has issued: a restraining order that kept the intended board members in their posts. The school faces a three-month probationary period during which it is necessary to rectify or close the problems.

Meanwhile, four members of the Kingston family pleaded guilty to charges of fraud in July 2019 after federal authorities determined that an Order-run company — Washakie Renewable Energy — stole half a billion dollars in biodiesel tax credits and laundered it through shell companies.

The lawsuit cites Washakie Renewable Energy as an example of the group’s many attempts to defraud the government.

“Sometimes the Order allows members to forge and fabricate documents, often against their will, in order to… [their] self-interest,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs’ complaint added that these practices enabled the Kingston Group’s so-called attempts to “bleed the beast” — a term used in polygamous communities to describe how they can benefit from the government and its taxpayers. to light up.

The Kingston Group said the concept of “bleeding the beast” is “abominable” and was “never a principle” of its organization.

The group argued that the values ​​exactly self-sufficiency and that its members save or contribute more to their community per capita than the average citizen.

‘Pure Kingston blood’

However, the fraud allegations facing the Kingston Group go far beyond Washakie and other Order-run companies.

The lawsuit explains how multiple plaintiffs’ birth certificates failed to mention their biological fathers so that those men could escape the legal ramifications inherent in 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, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit alleges that members of the Kingston family try to maintain their blood purity – what they call “Pure Kingston Blood” – by marrying and procreating with other Kingstons.

The group has called the term “Pure Kingston Blood” for its members “edge, unknown and somewhat offensive” and rejects any preference for any particular family or bloodline.

Jesse Orvil Kingston is not listed on Michaels of Lancaster’s birth certificates, according to the lawsuit, which additionally accuses him of fathering more than 300 children with 14 women.

The Guardian does not typically identify people who claim to have been victims of sexual assault, but the publicly available lawsuit does identify Michaels, Lancaster and other plaintiffs by name.

Amanda Rae Grant claims her father is Verl Johnson and accuses him of marrying 17-year-old Lori Peterson and two others to have 33 children.

Instead of being on her birth certificate, Grant says the document mentioned a fictitious father named Kyle Grant.

The lawsuit alleges that Utah state officials went so far as to track down a man named Kyle Grant for the purposes of collecting child support, but they concluded that he was not Amanda Rae Grant’s father.

“This was told as a funny story in Amanda’s family,” the lawsuit claims.

The Kingston Group argued that it is the prerogative of parents to “file birth certificates for their children as they please within the limits of the law”.

“This is especially true for the mother, who at the time of filing has the legal right to establish paternity or not,” the Kingston Group said in a statement. The statement added 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 of the lawsuit revolves around claims by plaintiff Jenny Kingston, 25, that her parents sent her to a rehabilitation center called Lifeline for Youth for six months to punish her for resisting her marriage to Jacob Daniel. Kingston Jr, the son of the Washakie power company boss.

She accuses Kingston Jr of physically overpowering and raping her to try to get her pregnant. Group members were aware of the abuse, her complaint alleges, but did not report or stop it. Instead, she claims they used group money to get her in vitro fertilization treatment.

She later fled the group with her twin children.

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