Polygamy is intertwined in Kingston fraud case, government argues

SALT LAKE CITY — Polygamy is a part of the upcoming trial of members of the Kingston family who are facing fraud charges, the government essentially argued in court papers.

Washakie Renewable Energy CEO Jacob Kingston’s attorneys have sought to block the government and witnesses from bringing up polygamy or the church he belongs to, the Davis County Cooperative Society (also known as “The Order”). In a response, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argues that it is a necessary part of their case.

“According to government witnesses, Defendants Jacob Kingston and Isaiah Kingston engage in the practice of polygamy. Further, all four Kingston Defendants are members of the Order, which espouses the practice of polygamy. Both Rachel and Sally Kingston are married to men who have ‘spiritual marriages’ with other women–an arrangement to which they have acquiesced. This evidence is inextricably intertwined with the charges and the prejudicial nature of this evidence does not substantially outweigh its probative value,” assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Goemaat wrote.

Jacob Kingston, his brother, Isaiah; his wife Sally; his mother Rachel; and Turkish businessman Lev Dermen are all set to go on trial at the end of this month on fraud charges stemming from a 2016 IRS raid on Kingston-related businesses. Prosecutors have alleged a massive scheme to bilk taxpayers out of a billion dollars in renewable fuel tax credits at Washakie Renewable Energy. Civil lawsuits have claimed the company produced no biofuels, something Kingston’s lawyers have denied.

“Former Order members who will testify as witnesses for the government, will testify that the Order promotes the principle of ‘bleeding the beast.’ Members of the Order are taught that because the government has purportedly persecuted the Order for its polygamist practices, Order members have a duty to ‘bleed the beast’ – to fraudulently obtain government benefits or resources in whatever manner possible,” Goemaat wrote.

“This group ethos is highly relevant to these four defendants’ motive in pursuing an eight-year course of conduct to defraud the United States of more than $1 billion. Further, it is relevant as to why these four family members voluntarily and persistently participated in this fraud together over the course of nearly 8 years.”

In their own filing last month seeking to block talk of the Kingston’s faith, Jacob Kingston’s lawyers argued it was highly prejudicial to a jury.

“Even assuming the polygamy evidence was relevant (which it is not), the risk of prejudice is even greater in this case considering how emotionally and politically charged the issue of polygamy is and has been in Utah. Accordingly, this Court should exclude any polygamy references by the government or its witnesses at trial,” attorneys Marc Agnifilio and Wally Bugden wrote.

A federal judge is expected to hear arguments on the motions later this month. The trial itself is expected to span several months.

The government did concede one thing to Kingston’s attorneys ahead of trial.

“The government agrees not to refer to the defendants’ conduct as the ‘largest biofuel tax fraud in history,'” the filing states.

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