On Friday, “Whistleblower” raises the curtain on the two Utahns who, yes, blew the whistle on the polygamous Kingston clan — and alleges that there are elements within the state government and/or law enforcement who are protecting what one accuser compares to “an organized crime family.”
The hourlong CBS News show (7 p.m. Friday, CBS-Channel 2) introduces viewers to Mary and Bryan Nelson. In 2013, Mary, born a member of the Kingston clan, escaped her family — and, she says, an arranged marriage to her first cousin — with Bryan’s help. She was 17; they married on her 18th birthday.
Mary Nelson is expected to be a witness when the Kingstons who ran the group’s Washakie Renewable Energy go on trial this summer in a half-billion-dollar fraud case.
According to Bryan Nelson, his wife was the first member of the Kingston clan who worked in the group’s banking office and escaped. “So she had seen all their financial transactions,” he said, claiming she has a “photographic memory.”
And some members of the Kingston clan “are participating in any type of fraud or scheme that you can think of,” Mary Nelson alleges; Bryan Nelson listed financial aid fraud, Medicaid fraud, food stamp fraud, tax fraud and more.
“I felt that I had to do something about it. I was going to take down The Order,” Bryan Nelson says. (The Kingstons are also known as the Davis County Cooperative Society or The Order.)
The big news that comes out of “Whistleblower” is that the Nelsons are the whistleblowers behind the federal fraud prosecution. It gives viewers background on the Kingstons; there are multiple clips of their leadership speaking to their congregations. But the focus is on their business.
“The Order is more than simply a polygamous Mormon splinter group,” host Alex Ferrer tells viewers. “It’s also a massive business empire. It owns huge swaths of real estate and over 100 companies, including pawnshops, hardware stores, motels, a casino, even this gun manufacturer.”
The gun manufacturer is Desert Tech; as Ferrer is speaking, viewers see video of a John’s Marketplace, a Sportsman’s Fast Cash, a True Value Hardware, the Spiking Tourist Lodge, and the Lake Elsinore Casino in California.
But the biggest piece of the fraud case is Washakie Renewable Energy, which allegedly defrauded the U.S. government out of more than $500 million in subsidies for falsely claiming it produced biofuel. And a former Washakie employee, Amanda Brown — who was not a member of the Kingston clan — goes on camera to say that she wrote to the Utah Attorney General’s office about the scam, but was ignored.
“The attorney general just dropped me at one point in time,” she says. “I couldn’t get anybody’s attention.”
The Nelsons’ lawyer, Mark W. Pugsley, tells viewers “the state government has tried” to prosecute the Kingstons, “but they have a lot of power in Salt Lake City.”
“So much power that The Order had been tipped off about the raid,” Ferrer intones.
That’s not news. In a 2016 court filing, prosecutors revealed that “multiple witnesses” said the group has “law enforcement contacts willing to provide them with information about ongoing covert investigations.” And the Kingstons removed and destroyed documents before the federal raid on a number of their properties in February 2016.
“Do you think that The Order has people in high positions in government, law enforcement, that can warn them when there’s some action going to be taken against them?” Ferrer asks Mary Nelson.
“They have always had that in the past,” she replies. “That’s how they’ve been able to get away with everything that they’re doing. And I’m pretty sure that they have that now.”
That message is going out to a national television audience on Friday.