Kingston polygamist sect trafficked children, violated federal labor laws, Utah lawsuit alleges

The 10 plaintiffs are all former members of the Kingston polygamist sect.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Traffic passes the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 13, 2020. Ten women filed a federal racketeering lawsuit this week against the Kingston polygamous sect.

Ten women have filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the Kingston polygamous sect, alleging the Kingstons trafficked women and children “for decades” while acting under the pretense of a religious community.

The 136-page federal complaint filed in Utah on Wednesday names nearly 50 defendants — including at least 14 members of the Kingston family, the Davis County Cooperative Society, and Vanguard Academy, a public charter school run by the sect. The filing also lists 450 unidentified businesses as defendants that the complaint states the sect operates.

One defendant — South Salt Lake-based Standard Restaurant Supply — was cited by the federal government last year for violating child labor laws.

An attempt to reach legal counsel for the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group, was not immediately returned.

The Kingston sect was the target of a separate lawsuit filed in 3rd District Court in 2022, which outlined similar allegations of sexual abuse and trafficking, according to The Guardian. The plaintiffs in that case, many of whom are identified as plaintiffs in the federal complaint, asked to voluntarily dismiss the case last year with the intent to “include additional facts, parties and federal claims” in a separate federal complaint, court records show.

The federal complaint filed this week describes the plaintiffs as 10 young women who, “from their earliest memories until their eventual escapes, were victims of economic and sexual crimes perpetrated by ‘the Order,’ a criminal enterprise and polygamous religious sect.”

Some plaintiffs were forced to marry close relatives who beat and raped them, the complaint alleges. Others fled before “the Order” could “lock them” into similar marriages, it states.

“Almost all were denied an ordinary education, physically abused (or threatened with abuse), taught to fear outsiders, and forced to work for years of their childhoods,” the complaint states, “often in grueling jobs, with little or no pay.”

While the plaintiffs are identified in the complaint, The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent. A request for comment from defense attorney Roger Hoole, who is representing the plaintiffs, wasn’t immediately returned.

Of the ten women, at least four appear to be closely related to the sect’s leader, Paul Elden Kingston. The filing details allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the sect against the plaintiffs, including incest.

The suit lists 12 causes of action against the defendants, including two allegations of labor trafficking; two allegations of sex trafficking; violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA); and two violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

The list continues with allegations of sexual battery and abuse of children; sexual battery and rape of adults; negligent sexual battery and abuse of a child; conversion — defined as when someone intentionally deprives another of their money; and infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint states that the plaintiffs don’t intend to “disparage the lawful religious aspects or beliefs of the Order,” noting that their allegations, including fraud, child abuse, kidnapping, child endangerment and wage theft, are instead directed at the sect’s “unlawful religious and business practices.”

“The Order engages in a systemic and systematic pattern of unlawful activity designed to enrich certain Order members at the expense of others and to grow the Order’s ranks by pushing girls and young women to have as many children as possible,” the complaint states, adding that some of the plaintiffs began working for Kingston-owned businesses when they were as young as 4 years old.

These children were also forced to commit crimes, the complaint alleges, including falsifying tax returns or destroying evidence.

“It also involves children in various business activities designed to ‘Bleed the Beast’ — that is, in the words of the Order, to defraud federal, state, and municipal government entities,” the suit alleges.

The complaint contends the defendants’ conduct was either “willful and malicious,” “intentional,” or conduct that “manifests a knowing and reckless indifference toward” and “disregard of” each plaintiff’s rights.

The lawsuit seeks a number of damages to be proven at trial, including unpaid minimum wages and overtime wages, and general and punitive damages.

U.S District Magistrate Judge Jared C. Bennett issued an order to propose a schedule for the complaint on Thursday, according to the docket.

As of Friday afternoon, no formal response had been filed by the lawsuit’s defendants, court records show.