Co-owner of a California casino with Utah polygamous sect ties dies from COVID-19

(Courtesy photo) Joseph O. Kingston, seen here in this undated photo. The "14" represents his status as a "numbered man" in the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group.

Joseph Ortell Kingston, whose ownership stake in a California casino was a point of contention with regulators there, died early Sunday at Murray’s Intermountain Medical Center from COVID-19, according to members of his family.

He was 68.

The family members asked not to be identified so as not to upset other relatives. The Utah Department of Health said Tuesday one of three new coronavirus deaths was a Salt Lake County man between ages 60 and 85 who was hospitalized at the time of death.

Kingston was a full brother to Paul E. Kingston, leader of the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Latter-Day Church of Christ and the Kingston Group, or the Order.

One of Joseph Kingston’s sons, through a spokesman for the Davis County Cooperative Society, declined to comment.

Kingston’s death came 3½ weeks after his legal wife, Luana Joan Kingston, died of breast cancer, according to her obituary. She was 68.

Kingston had told gaming regulators in California that he suffered from diabetes and other ailments. Diabetes is thought to be one of the risk factors for complications from COVID-19.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The Lake Elsinore Econo Lodge Casino in Lake Elsinore, Calif. Monday, April 8, 2019.

Poor health was one of the reasons Kingston gave in recent years for wanting to transfer his ownership of the Lake Elsinore Casino to a second cousin, Chad Benson. An administrative law judge in 2019 said Kingston should be allowed to give Benson his 47.5% share of the casino.

Regulators have to approve any changes in casino ownership, and the the deal was tangled in a dispute about whether Lake Elsinore Casino qualified for a permanent gambling license. The casino has been operating under a string of provisional licenses since 1999.

The regulators, who are responsible for ensuring fair gaming and that crimes like money laundering aren’t occurring, have demanded to know more about the family history and finances of Kingston and his co-owner, Ted Kingston, who is Benson’s half brother. The state regulators also want to know the status of loans issued by lenders with ties to the Kingston Group.

A hearing on the licensing dispute is scheduled for October.

Joe Kingston, as he was called, was born Nov. 18, 1951, to John Ortell and LaDonna Peterson Kingston. Ortell Kingston, as the father was known, had at least 13 wives, according to the book “God’s Brothel,” by Andrea Moore-Emmett, about so-called Mormon fundamentalism. His sons with LaDonna Kingston comprise the upper echelon of the sect’s leadership.

Luana Kingston’s obituary said she and her husband married June 6, 1970, in Salt Lake City. Her survivors included six sons, five daughters, 116 grandchildren and 60 great-grandchildren.

A lawsuit initiated last year by watchdogs Bryan and Mary Nelson, who have tried to raise awareness about the Kingston Group, said Joe Kingston had three wives and 26 children. The suit also listed him as No. 14 in the Kingston Group’s system of ranking men who have achieved status in the sect. The lower the number, the higher the rank.

That lawsuit accused sect leader Paul Kingston, Joe Kingston, some of his brothers, other family members and the Davis County Cooperative Society of conspiring to defraud federal student loan programs. A spokesman for the Davis County Cooperative Society in December told The Salt Lake Tribune that members of the cooperative are “strongly” encouraged to “strictly adhere to every legal guideline” when applying for financial aid.