A woman who escaped from her polygamist clan at the age of 16 after being physically and sexually abused has filed a lawsuit against the family, seeking millions in damages for “the harm they have caused.”
Mary Ann Kingston, now 22, filed the suit in state court Aug. 1, naming 242 family members and 97 businesses operated by the group in and around the Salt Lake Valley.
The suit seeks more than $110 million from what Mary Ann Kingston called a “secretive religious society and economic organization” that teaches and promotes sexual abuse of young girls through illegal and underage marriages, incest and polygamy.
Members of the family refer to their society as the “Order,” the suit says.
Kingston was born into the family and was told by her father, John Daniel Kingston, one of the clan’s leading figures, that she would become the 15th wife of his brother, David Kingston, when she turned 16.
She was eventually married to David Kingston and was later beaten by her father for attempting to flee. Her father pleaded no contest to second-degree felony child abuse and was sentenced to 28 weeks in jail. Her uncle-husband was recently released from prison after serving nearly four years for third-degree felony incest and unlawful sexual contact with a minor.
“I am pursuing this lawsuit with the hope that other young girls and boys in the same position that I was in will see that the leaders of the Kingston organization are not above the law, even though they tell us that they are,” Kingston said. “I also hope that the people that we are bringing this lawsuit against, will realize the harm they have caused and continue to cause and that they will change their ways.”
A message left with the law offices of one of the group’s attorneys, Carl Kingston, who is also named as a defendant, was not returned Thursday.
The Kingston clan, also known as the Latter Day Church of Christ, is believed to have more than 1,000 members and a $150 million business empire in six Western states, based mainly in the Salt Lake Valley. Marriages of half-sisters, first cousins, nieces and aunts are part of their religious beliefs.
The clan is not part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which practiced polygamy widely until the 1890s, when church leaders renounced it as a condition for Utah statehood. Polygamists are now excommunicated from the Mormon church.
The suit the Kingston clan as a communal “economic empire.”
A majority of the group’s members, several of whom are named in the suit, don’t have normal bank accounts, making it necessary to name the businesses which hold the organization’s wealth, said John Morris, one of Mary Ann Kingston’s attorneys.
Members of the group are usually required to work for one of the organization’s businesses, which include pawn shops, restaurant suppliers, bail bond services, vending suppliers, markets, ranches, mining and construction companies. They generally are paid with family credits, not cash.
Kingston now lives outside the group, has a job and is married. She declined to answer questions after delivering her statement. Her attorneys would not say where she lives now.
Her plight came to public attention in 1998, when she fled a clan ranch, walked two miles to a gas station and called police, alleging she had been severely beaten for rebelling against the arranged marriage. In December 1998, The Salt Lake Tribune named her “Utahn of the Year” for her courage in bringing to light the abuse she endured in the closed society.
Then known only as “M. Kingston,” the girl was lauded by the newspaper for her “courageous decision … (which) opened the seamiest compartment in polygamy’s Pandora’s Box.”