Witness against brothers from polygamous Kingston Group offered to help Utah attorney general raise money

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks during a news conference about the National Suicide Prevention Hotline Improvement Act being signed into law. Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018.

An informant in the prosecution of two brothers from a Utah polygamous sect made overtures to Utah politicians, including Attorney General Sean Reyes, according to a new court filing and interviews.

The informant, identified for the first time in court papers as Santiago Garcia, was employed by the two brothers — Jacob and Isaiah Kingston — who are now accused of fraud and money laundering.

Isaiah Kingston’s lawyer, in a motion filed on New Year’s Eve, accuses Garcia of shady and sometimes illicit dealings, including embezzling from the Kingstons’ company and giving money and favors to politicians.

The only politician the filing names is Reyes, though the motion doesn’t say Utah’s attorney general actually took anything. Reyes campaign consultant Alan Crooks said Garcia never contributed to Reyes.

Garcia “did offer to do fundraisers,” Crooks said Tuesday, “but we chose not to do any fundraisers with him.”

Utah’s campaign disclosure website lists no contributions from Garcia.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kingston brothers Isaiah (left) and Jacob co-own WRE or Washakie Renewable Energy, which produces 10 million gallons of biofuel. The largest biodiesel producer in Utah, Washakie Renewable Energy, held an open house in Plymouth on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, to showcase its new production facility.

Jacob and Isaiah Kingston ran Washakie Renewable Energy, which promoted itself as a manufacturer and seller of biofuels. For a stretch in 2014 and 2015, Washakie was one of Utah’s highest-profile businesses. It advertised at Utah Jazz home games and on game broadcasts.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges Washakie made almost no biofuel and instead bought and sold products and fabricated papers to collect a tax rebate from the federal government. Prosecutors have alleged the fraud amounted to almost $511 million, with the money going to the purchase of property in Turkey, among other things.

Court filings and hearings have discussed a government informant who duped Jacob Kingston into sending incriminating messages about trying to bribe or intimidate witnesses and prosecutors. The motion filed on New Year’s Eve is the first to identify that witness as Garcia. He was once an executive at a Washakie subsidiary called United Fuel Supply.

The new motion is aimed at getting Isaiah Kingston out of jail until his trial. His lawyer, Scott C. Williams, who filed the motion, wrote that Garcia was fired from Washakie for embezzling and is cooperating with the government to get immunity for his crimes.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney Scott C. Williams leaves the federal courthouse along with Carrie Kingston, wife of Isaiah Kingston, and Isaiah's mother, Rachel Ann Kingston, after a hearing for defendants Jacob and Isaiah Kingston Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Williams called Garcia an unsavory character whom prosecutors are relying upon to prosecute Isaiah Kingston and keep him in jail until trial. The motion argues the Justice Department probably knows more about Garcia’s misdealings but has not yet provided those records to the defense.

“Our point is the government is not giving all the information,” Williams said. “It’s cherry-picking what looks bad” for Isaiah Kingston.

Williams said prosecutors have provided him screenshots of telephone text messages between Garcia and Reyes and between Garcia and Crooks. Some of those messages included invitations from Garcia for Reyes to travel to Texas and Florida for campaign fundraisers. Garcia worked in both states as part of his job with United Fuel Supply.

Williams clarified Tuesday he is not accusing Reyes of any wrongdoing; the attorney included the mention of the attorney general in an effort to show how it was normal for Garcia to be communicating with government officials, and Jacob and Isaiah Kingston might not have realized Garcia was suggesting bribery or intimidation of them.

Williams declined to provide the screenshots Tuesday, citing prohibitions imposed by the judge in the case.

Garcia could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Representatives of the Justice Department did not return calls seeking comment.

These undated file photos released by the Weber County Sheriff's Office show Jacob Kingston, left, and Isaiah Kingston. The two Salt Lake City biodiesel executives linked to a polygamous group will stay in jail after prosecutors argued they could flee to Turkey if released ahead of trial in an alleged $511 million tax credit scheme. The men have access private jets, millions of dollars stashed abroad and an unidentified federal law-enforcement contact who apparently tipped them off ahead of a raid, special assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Goemaat said at a hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Kingston's attorney said the prosecutor's allegations are false hearsay. (Weber County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

Isaiah Kingston was Washakie’s chief financial officer. Yet Williams’ motion contends his client was far less involved in the company and its finances than his brother was and was not responsible for the alleged money laundering.

Jacob Kingston is charged with 25 counts of filing false returns with the IRS and money laundering. Isaiah Kingston is charged with six counts of money laundering. They belong to the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group, which believes in polygamy.

Another co-defendant, Lev Aslan Dermen, commonly known as Levon Termendzhyan, has been indicted on four counts of money laundering.

Jacob and Isaiah Kingston, their companies and family members donated a total of $50,985 to Reyes during 2014 and 2015, according to campaign records. Reyes placed those contributions into an escrow account after federal agents raided Washakie offices in 2016. Crooks has said the money will remain in escrow until the outcome of the federal cases against the brothers and their businesses.

Crooks said Tuesday he recalled Jacob Kingston introducing him to Garcia, perhaps in 2014. The Reyes campaign opted not to hold fundraisers or work with Garcia, Crooks said.

Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado. Courtesy photo

Then, sometime after Elizabeth Elena Laguna-Salgado disappeared from Provo in April 2015, Garcia called Crooks again, Crooks said Tuesday. Garcia offered to help investigators make contacts in Provo’s Latino community as well as in Mexico, Crooks said.

Garcia never called back with such information, Crooks said. Laguna-Salgado’s body was found in May 2018 in Hobble Creek Canyon. Police believe she as the victim of a homicide. No arrests have been made.

As for the investigation into the Kingston brothers or Washakie, Crooks said neither he nor Reyes has been questioned by federal investigators.

“They don’t have any reason to get a hold of us, to be honest,” Crooks said.