Utah Attorneys Key Figures in Polygamist Kingston Clan

Salt Lake Tribune/July 19, 1998
By Ray Rivera

It might have been any wedding, anywhere in America.

The one-story brick house in the tree-lined Bountiful neighborhood could barely contain the guests. Dozens of women and children and the few older men sat on folding chairs or leaned against walls.

The father held his daughter by the arm and marched her down the makeshift aisle between the living and dining rooms. Then, as one of the leaders in his church, he performed the ceremony.

But this wasn't just any wedding. When Salt Lake attorney Carl E. Kingston gave away his 16-year-old daughter in holy matrimony that June day in 1987, the groom was his first cousin. And, the groom's two other wives were in attendance, standing next to him in brides maid's gowns as he exchanged vows with his newest wife.

So another knot was tied in the Kingston group, a 1,500-member polygamist clan that for 60 years has seamlessly blended its estimated $150 million financial empire with the Salt Lake business community while zealously guarding the privacy of its religious practices.

Officially known as the Latter Day Church of Christ or the Davis County Cooperative Society, the order is so secret it has been known to place armed guards outside its Sunday services.

Two central figures in the clan are Kingston and his cousin, Paul Kingston, an enigmatic 38-year-old CPA and attorney. Paul Kingston's father was John Ortell Kingston, whose brother Charles Elden founded the order in 1935. John Ortell led it for nearly 40 years until his 1987 death. Members elected Paul to replace him a year later, elevating him ahead of three older brothers.

Former members estimate Paul has 30 wives and more than 50 children. He and Carl are members of the Utah State Bar, despite signing state oaths agreeing to uphold the Utah Constitution, which specifically outlaws polygamy. Carl Kingston is believed to have fathered 20 children from two wives and another child from a third wife who has left him.

But apart from Article III of the Utah Constitution, polygamy is a non-issue in state law circles.

When asked what discipline a polygamous attorney might face, Billy Ray Walker of the bar's Office of Professional conduct refused to comment, even hypothetically. And the state Supreme Court has said that prosecuting plural marriages is as difficult and futile as punishing fornication and adultery.

Even if the law were enforced, groups like the Kingstons often protect themselves by legally marrying only one wife and wedding the rest in secret, undocumented weddings.

That was the case in the June 1987 wedding at Carl Kingston's home, which The Salt Lake Tribune learned about through witnesses. Carl Kingston refused to comment on this story.

``You can print what you want,'' he said. ``You're going to say what you want to say anyway.''

Paul did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Paul Kingston was groomed for his leadership role, say former classmates from the now-closed South High School in Salt Lake City. He was student body president, a member of Boys State and lettered in swimming and cross country. He went on to earn an MBA and law degree from the University of Utah.

A quotation he selected that is under his senior picture in the 1978 high school yearbook states: ``He who would kindle a fire in others must first himself glow.''

``Paul was always a hard-working student, I don't know that he ever slept,'' said Salt Lake attorney Ed Flint, a former classmate who served as vice president under him their senior year.

Flint, who is not associated with the group, attended Kingston's first marriage.

``The weirdest thing is that he dated this one girl for a year-and-a-half during high school and then about a month after school he came around with wedding invitations and he was marrying a different girl,'' Flint said.

``We all went to the wedding,'' he added. ``I don't remember it well, but there were a lot of women and a lot of children, you didn't see too many men and the ones you did see were pretty old.''

Other classmates say Paul had a gregarious personality, and Flint recalls him attending at least one class reunion. But for all that, Paul has remained out of the public spotlight. He is listed in only a few of the order's numerous businesses and land holdings. Merlin B. Kingston, Paul's uncle, is named president of the church in its incorporation papers in Utah and Nevada.

About the only time Paul's name appears in ink is in stories and civil lawsuits filed against the clan by former members.

Carl Kingston, on the other hand, is better known in the Salt Lake law community. He represents the clan and its businesses in most legal matters, and is listed as an agent or director of at least 12 Kingston-run enterprises. His photograph hangs inside the University of Utah Law School building, where he graduated in 1969.

Carl is currently at the center of a case that has drawn national media attention. He is representing John Daniel Kingston, Carl's cousin and Paul's older brother, who is accused of beating his 16-year-old daughter after she tried to escape her polygamous marriage. The girl told police she was the 15th wife of her uncle, David Ortell Kingston, the same groom in that 1987 wedding at Carl's Bountiful home.

It's the second high-profile case in which Carl has represented a family member.

In 1983 he defended John Ortell Kingston when the state sued him for massive welfare fraud. Investigators claimed that at least four wives and 29 children of John Ortell had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in public assistance over 10 years, despite his estimated assets of $70 million, according to investigators at the time.

John Ortell never admitted guilt but paid the state $250,000 to settle the case. The settlement circumvented court-ordered blood tests that would have established paternity of the children.

Two other members were convicted and served short prison terms in connection with the case.

The settlement and convictions were considered victories for the state, but also illustrated the government's unwillingness to prosecute polygamy -- even when taxpayer money was being bilked through fraudulent welfare schemes.

Randall Skeen, the former assistant Salt Lake County attorney who represented the state in the case, said the state was reluctant to pursue the civil suit and then never followed up with criminal charges against John Ortell.

``After we got the money back, they kind of dropped the whole thing,'' said Skeen, who left the county office shortly after the settlement and is now in private practice. ``If I had been calling the shots, I would have prosecuted every one of them.''

No simple task, Skeen admits.

``The problem was we didn't have strong ties to the [Kingston] men, just the women,'' he said. ``We were lucky to get [John Ortell] Kingston because someone in the group ratted him out.''

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