Utah clan builds riches in Colorado, elsewhere, while growing bigger through intermarriage
A polygamist sect built on the twin pillars of incest and secrecy has moved into cash-rich businesses in Colorado and six other Western states that traditionally have attracted organized crime.
Based in Salt Lake City, the clan known as the Kingstons has cornered a large piece of Colorado’s amusement machine market, made a series of loans to bar owners and distributed illegal slot machines from a subsidiary in Denver.
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The Kingstons also cornered an unwanted piece of the national spotlight last year during two Utah trials involving Kingston men. One was convicted of having sex with his 16-year-old niece. The other was convicted of beating the same girl, his own daughter, when she tried to flee a marriage with the uncle.
But the trials only scratched the surface of the Kingston empire, one seemingly built on contradictions, mixing God with gambling, great wealth with abject poverty, an aversion to liquor with the funding of bars.
Beyond all else, these deeply religious people who shun worldly possessions are tough business competitors.
If you have played pool in a Colorado bar, dropped quarters into a pinball, foosball or game machine or played video poker at a neighborhood watering hole, chances are you have contributed to the group’s ample coffers.
The Kingstons say their business enterprises are based on solid and legal grounds.
“Our growth has been the result of hard work and careful planning, and most of all, making sure that all of our dealings were handled with honesty, integrity and a high level of customer service,” said Elden Kingston, who runs the group’s amusement machine business.
Run out of a 32,000-square-foot, three-level warehouse in unincorporated Adams County, the Kingstons’ main Colorado operation comes under the umbrella of a company named Mountain Coin Machine Distributors, which, in turn, is owned by Las Vegas-based World Enterprises Inc.
The principal listed on corporation papers for World Enterprises is C.E. Kingston, though Elden Kingston is president of Mountain Coin.
This quirk in corporate recordkeeping is not unusual for the close-knit group that has spread its wealth into at least 35 corporations in Utah, 21 in Nevada, and several more in five other states. Two of the group’s subsidiaries operate in Colorado.
The Kingstons own or lease coal mines, accounting firms, finance companies, a garbage collecting business, pawnshops, bail bond firms, poker parlors and large cattle ranches.
One spread alone — the late actor Jimmy Stewart’s former Wine Cup Ranch in northern Nevada — sprawls across 160,000 acres.
Estimates of the sect’s holdings begin at $150 million. Tony Vina, owner of a rival vending company in Utah, estimates the total at 10 times that. A Colorado competitor gives an even more stratospheric guess, pegging the clan’s wealth at $11 billion.
A top business officer of Utah’s Kingston clan says the group is being unfairly persecuted.
In a rare public statement, Elden Kingston, president of Mountain Coin, told the Denver Rocky Mountain News in a faxed statement Thursday that the public has the wrong image of the group.
Said Kingston: “There has been a lot of news media coverage that has tried to portray ‘the Kingstons’ as some kind of secret religious group.
They have been called names, ridiculed, discriminated against and persecuted, all because some of their religious beliefs were different than the majority of the people.
“The people that really know ‘the Kingstons’ know these stories simply are not true and realize they are just normal people trying to make an honest living.
“If you ever got to know me, you would see that I put my pants on one leg at a time, the same as you.
“I follow the Denver Nuggets, Broncos, Utah Jazz and other sporting events. I pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in state, local and federal taxes, and I try to comply with all the laws.
“I employ large numbers of people. Should you get to know me, you would find that I try to deal honestly and fairly with all the people I come in contact with. I try to treat everyone as well as I possibly can. I believe in respecting all religious beliefs, in living and let live.
“All I would like is for others to do the same. I’m not sure what your religious beliefs are, but whatever they are, I respect them and wish you well.
“Religion is a very peculiar thing. Take the Catholics and Protestants, for instance. Both religions say they believe in God yet have been fighting and killing each other for hundreds of years. Can you see anything wrong with this?
— Lou Kilzer
While accumulating vast wealth, the Kingstons bought illegal slot machines from Mafia-controlled companies in New Jersey, according to Merlin Symes, Mountain Coin’s former Utah manager. And they financed a $510,000, no-down-payment loan to a company that federal investigators said was also receiving funds from Denver’s Smaldone La Cosa Nostra syndicate.
Elden Kingston, however, said that Mountain Coin does “not handle gambling devices or machines that are illegal in any state that we distribute in.”
Kingston said Symes’ accounts are “fantasy.”
“I, myself and/or Mountain Coin is not now, or never has been, associated, involved or has any connection with organized crime, any crime family or any other illegal activity,” Kingston said.
The amusement machine businesses the Kingstons run in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Idaho and California are the type of prized cash-rich businesses that have frequently attracted organized crime interest.
A report by the New Mexico Governor’s Organized Crime Prevention Commission said that companies in illegal video gaming businesses are generally owned by organized crime, local racketeers or “legitimate vendors who are tied to organized crime ….”
To be sure, the amusement machine industry is well populated with legitimate companies and honest business owners. But they compete in shark-infested waters, and some have come in close contact with the underworld.
Why would a deeply religious group whose members would not dream of wasting their money gambling, drinking or dropping quarters into Mortal Kombat game machines and jukeboxes engage in such businesses?
The answer is simple, said Scott Stoddard, an engineer who spent 25 years in the clan before quitting:
“They believe they are converting money from profane uses to God’s uses.”
The Kingstons believe they are the chosen people who will inherit the world in its last days, former member Malvern Hansen said. Until then, they will speed the way to the end by corrupting the “gentiles.”
And they believe the money must be made in a hurry and hoarded. Said former clan member Rowenna Erickson: “They’re preparing for Armageddon.”
“I am not interested in corrupting the gentiles or anyone else,” Elden Kingston said. “And no, I do not believe the world is going to end tomorrow, next year or any time in the near future.”
Breeding the bloodlines
North of Salt Lake City, a workman repairs a shack owned by the Kingston clan. Despite the polygamist group’s vast wealth, many clan members live in such rundown housing.
The riddles enveloping the Kingstons do not stop with their businesses.
The Kingston group has perhaps 1,000 members, but power is concentrated in seven brothers and a small number of close relatives.
The seven brothers, all named Kingston, have from three to more than 30 wives each, former members say. Each wife will bear an average of 10 children.
Paul Kingston, 40, a Salt Lake City attorney who heads the clan, has 32 wives and more than 200 children, said Erickson, one of the few women to have left the group.
Unlike several other Utah polygamist groups, the Kingstons believe that their bloodlines are pure and must be carefully bred. Incest in the group is epidemic, former members said, with Kingstons marrying nieces, half-sisters and cousins.
Male members who are not of “the good blood” have trouble finding any wives at all.
Unlike most fundamentalist religious groups, the Kingstons do not proselytize for new recruits, preferring to make new members by prodigious coupling with their relatives.
Some male members observing this would “complain all the time,” said Nathan Atwood, a former member who said he quit the group shortly after one of the seven Kingston brothers asked to marry his 17-year-old daughter.
“You’ve got to realize that there’s a shortage of females,” Stoddard said. “And those Kingston boys take most of them.”
“Paul and Daniel (Paul’s brother) spot the young cute girls, and they go to them and say, ‘We’ve received direction from God to marry you.’ And then they shower them with gifts,” said Bill Adams, who once worked for the Kingstons and has relatives in the group.
“The girls are told to go pray and see if you receive direction,” Adams said. “It’s sad in a way, because it’s always the young cute girls. It’s never the overweight plump ones. It seems to me that somebody in the group would get a clue as to what is going on here. But they don’t. They don’t question it. They’re taught to be obedient.”
Because polygamy is against the law in Utah and the Mormon church forbade plural marriages in 1890, the Kingstons are careful not to leave many records of their progeny.
“None of those women goes to the hospital for births,” Adams said. “Paul delivers most of the babies.”
Several former members say that the rampant inbreeding has caused serious birth defects in some babies.
“I know of several girls that have had babies that are severely deformed,” Adams said. “And those babies usually die.”
In a state where polygamy is grudgingly tolerated, the Kingstons’ incestuous brand is not well-received.
Last year, David Ortell Kingston, a sect leader, was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for having sex with his 16-year-old niece. His brother, John Daniel Kingston, was sentenced to 28 weeks in prison for whipping the girl, his own daughter, after she tried to flee an arranged marriage to David.
More prosecutions are possible, but they won’t be easy, Chief Utah Deputy Attorney General Reed Richards said. The key problem, he said, was the lack of complaining witnesses.
Another practice sets the Kingston clan apart from other polygamist groups. Despite the vast wealth the group has accumulated, group members and even some of their leaders live in hovels scattered throughout Salt Lake City and nearby towns. Some of the homes are mildewed, with rotting, unpainted walls and cheap, tattered rugs.
The male members own the rundown housing, with a house reserved for each wife. But the wives of the Kingston brothers must pay rent from their earnings at mostly minimum-wage jobs at family-owned companies, according to former members.
“The whole idea is they think they need to be self-sufficient,” Stoddard said. “You would be amazed at the lengths they go to to save money. They even tell you you’re only supposed to use three squares of toilet paper. And they used to go get garbage out of the back of large grocery stores and take it home and eat it.”
“They live in poverty, sheer poverty,” said Vicky Prunty, a founder of Tapestry of Polygamy, a Utah organization that assists women who have left polygamous relationships.
The Kingston women generally are kept isolated, their world revolving around their husbands and their businesses.
The women “will usually go into junior high, and then when they reach puberty or start looking at boys, they pull them out of school,” Erickson said. “And then they start arranging for them to get married.”
Boys in the clan have a brighter future. Paul Kingston, the leader, is a lawyer and an accountant. The group has other accountants and lawyers, together with engineers and others with professional or business degrees.
The clan was started in 1935 when founder Charles Elden Kingston had a vision. He had been praying near a cave in Utah when, he said later, God told him to found a new order based upon fundamentalist Mormon principles, including polygamy.
Kingston called the new order the Latter Day Church of Christ, similar to the official name of the Mormon church — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Kingstons have no connection with the Mormon church.
In 1941, the group incorporated the Davis County Cooperative Society, which became an umbrella organization for Kingston enterprises. Co-op members lived communal lives, giving as much as they could to the greater benefit of the group.
Members signed an agreement stating: “I voluntarily transfer all claim and title to all my possessions to said society as a Gift. I also agree to turn the results of my labor, together with the results of my wife and family’s labor, to the society, as long as we are members.
“In case I or we ever withdraw from the society, I or we claim no equity whatsoever in the society.”
Clan members worked at the co-op’s businesses and often were paid in credits that could be spent only at co-op enterprises.
By the late 1940s, clan leaders were insisting on a regime of rigorous dieting. Sugar and white flour were forbidden, not to mention alcohol and caffeine.
Serious change came after Kingston died in 1948, leaving the clan in the hands of his brother, John Ortell Kingston.
John Ortell Kingston had developed theories about genetics while raising cattle at a Kingston dairy farm just north of Salt Lake City.
According to former clan members, he decided he could put this knowledge to good use in breeding his own family.
The Kingston practice of incest was born. The goal: to perfect the bloodline.
The method is a closely held secret that not even other members of the group know, former member Erickson said.
But this much is known: It revolves around the male progeny of the first wife in the plural marriage. Sons from subsequent wives most often stay in the sect but never reach the status of the sons of wife No. 1.
As he delved into genetics, John Ortell Kingston also began to assume almost God-like qualities to his followers. He told them about his visions of divine truths. The fundamentalist Mormon faith says that only one prophet at a time will live on Earth, and John Ortell assumed this role in the Kingston clan.
It was during John Ortell’s tenure as head of the group that the Kingstons developed an obsessive desire to save money.
John Ortell led the way. In the mid-1980s, he lived in a dilapidated structure with a barren dirt yard in Salt Lake City. Paint peeled from the walls, and several planks in the porch floor were missing. Inside the front room one day, a black-and-white television set with aluminum foil dangling from its rabbit ears played a daytime show. A felt picture of Jesus adorned the wall.
John Ortell’s many children were mostly on welfare. When the state brought welfare fraud charges concerning three of his wives and their 26 children, he agreed to repay $250,000.
But he did so grudgingly. He brought out his checkbook only after a judge ordered that he submit to a blood test to determine paternity. State investigators in that case estimated his net worth at $70 million.
When John Ortell died in 1987, control of the family passed to his seven sons from his first wife and to another faction descended from Charles Elden Kingston’s sister, Ardous.
Elden Kingston, one of Ardous’ sons, gained control of the Kingstons’ gaming and amusement interests.
Paul Kingston emerged as the new patriarch. In the eyes of group members, he alone talks to God. Church services are held near Salt Lake City every Sunday at the Standard Restaurant Equipment Co., another Kingston business.
Although the Kingstons were willing to talk in a limited fashion about their business dealings, they refused to answer questions about their religious beliefs. Elden Kingston, however, said some of the religious questions asked by the Denver Rocky Mountain News were “so ridiculous I didn’t have time to answer them.”
Sounds of commerce
A coin-operated amusement machine is loaded into a pickup at the Kingston group’s Mountain Coin headquarters in Salt Lake City. The Kingstons have amassed a fortune estimated to exceed $100 million.
Even at noon on a weekday, the Boulder Boardwalk arcade in Boulder crackles with electronic noise. Guns blaze. Engines rev. Victims scream. Pinball machines clang like slot machines paying off jackpots.
These are some of Mountain Coin’s latest entries in high-tech arcade action, games sporting names such as Point Blank, Off-road Thunder, Area 51 and, of course, the Tower of Doom. High schoolers, college kids and 10-year-old boys blast away at alien droids.
Arcades have been forced to adopt highly sophisticated motifs just to keep up with the Internet, which has cut significantly into the amusement machine market. Machines costing $10,000 and more long since have replaced modest Pac Man devices machines costing $1,800.
Despite the bustle at the Boulder Boardwalk, what once was a $6 billion American industry today has shrunk to $4.5 billion in yearly revenues.
Nevertheless, the amusement machine business has not lost its allure. It is a cash-based business that has often attracted not only honest business people but also others who use the machines to launder money or wedge themselves into bars and liquor licenses.
There especially has been no dampening of demand for slots and video poker, machines that earn three or more times as much as the latest adventure machine and cost half as much, according to Play Meter, an amusement machine industry trade journal.
At a single location in Salt Lake City, illegal Kingston video poker machines took in so much money that they had to be emptied every day to make room for more coins and bills, said Stoddard, the onetime clan member.
The Kingstons have had transactions with companies controlled by organized crime, according to official state and federal crime reports.
Merlin Symes, Mountain Coin’s former Utah manager, recalls an amusement machine convention that he and Elden Kingston attended in the 1970s in Anaheim, Calif.
Also present, Symes said, was New Jersey mob associate Carmen Ricci, then-CEO of slot machine manufacturer Grayhound Electronics. Symes said Kingston nodded toward Ricci and confided that Ricci wanted the Kingstons to invest in an oil shale program.
Symes said he never learned if the Kingstons put money into the venture. But he said the meeting cemented a long relationship between Elden Kingston and Ricci.
Symes said it would last until Grayhound, Ricci and two associates were indicted in 1991 on charges of conspiring with the Philadelphia Mafia to manufacture and distribute illegal gaming devices in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.
The defendants pleaded guilty to gambling violations and were sentenced to probation.
Mountain Coin bought some of those devices. From there they were sold and leased widely in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, Symes said.
A list of Grayhound customers obtained by the Denver Rocky Mountain News shows that Grayhound did business with Mountain Coin branches in Denver, Albuquerque, Des Moines, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Pocatello, Idaho.
Elden Kingston said “I don’t recall ever meeting or talking” to Ricci. “I would not know him if I met him on the street.”
The other main supplier of slot machines to the Kingstons a decade ago was SMS Manufacturing, a New Jersey company. According to a 1992 New Mexico report by the Governor’s Organized Crime Prevention Commission, SMS was “controlled by organized crime.”
“The Lucchese and Bruno/Scarfo organized crime families fought and murdered for control of SMS,” the report said.
One man who got in the middle of the dispute was beaten to death with a golf club in 1984 in New Jersey, the report said.
The war was finally settled after the parties agreed that the Lucchese family would receive two thirds of the profits from SMS and the Bruno/Scarfo family one-third.
“We have never purchased any illegal gaming machines from them,” Elden Kingston said of SMS. “I am not aware now, (nor) was I aware at that time if there may have been any connection with SMS and any crime family.”
Mountain Coin also did business with a company that had a Denver connection to the Mafia, according to federal records.
In April 1983, Mountain Coin agreed to finance the purchase of $510,000 worth of its machines by LPS Associates. Unlike other Mountain Coin customers, LPS put no money down and paid no interest, according to court documents.
Just a year before, LPS had been publicly identified in federal court as doing business with Denver’s Smaldone La Cosa Nostra crime family. LPS owner James Dress was overheard in secretly taped conversations in the basement of Gaetano’s, a north Denver Italian restaurant that was long the headquarters of the Smaldone operation.
At one point, Eugene “Checkers” Smaldone, identified in federal organized crime reports as head of the family’s criminal enterprise, turned to Dress and asked: “What’s our 60 percent worth? You want to buy our 60 percent?”
After Dress testified before a grand jury that the Smaldones had not invested in his company, he was indicted on a perjury charge. He testified at his trial that the Smaldones had given him two interest-free loans totaling $61,000.
But he told the court he didn’t think the loans constituted an investment. Dress was acquitted.
Elden Kingston said that Mountain Coin lost considerable money in the Dress transaction.
“Our relationship with Dress was not a good one,” he said. “I never knew of any connection between him and any crime family.”
Merlin Symes, Mountain Coin’s former Utah manager, says the Kingstons resorted to one of the tactics of their East Coast suppliers.
He said the group hired toughs about 10 years ago to beat up a would-be competitor in the Salt Lake City video poker business. The competitor got the message and left town and no charges were filed, Symes said.
‘They’re extremely fair’
Mountain Coin, the company involved in these deals with organized crime, has been in Colorado’s coin machine business since 1977. The business was then a Wild West market with the largest share going to a Chicago-based firm, Interstate United.
Interstate won its dominance in part by making loans to bar owners in exchange for the bars’ installing their amusement machines.
Because the practice appeared to violate a Colorado law forbidding a firm’s financial interest in more than one liquor license, the state’s Organized Crime Strike Force launched an investigation.
Agents, however, soon found themselves in political hot water.
Longtime Denver political figure Elvin Caldwell discovered that detectives were taking his picture as he met with an Interstate executive. Caldwell, who had served as a city councilman from northeast Denver and as the city’s public safety manager, complained to then-Police Chief Art Dill.
Dill then called in top Strike Force officials to find out about the probe. Some Strike Force officials said the meeting put pressure on them to wrap up their probe. Dill said he applied no such pressure.
Though the investigation into Caldwell and Interstate soon ended, the Strike Force probe resulted in the firing of the state’s liquor control chief, who allegedly met regularly with an Interstate United executive and arranged a conference between an organized crime figure and a brewery official.
It was into these troubled waters that the Utah polygamists sailed. Before it was over, they would outlast almost all their rivals.
Interstate United of the 1970s is no more. Only a single Mountain Coin competitor — the Warehouse of Vending and Games -remains in Colorado.
“I’d say we’re about dead even,” Warehouse of Vending and Games sales manager Mike Leonard said.
Some competitors in the business credit the Kingstons for their business savvy.
“They’re extremely fair,” said John Hulick, manager of T.D. Rowe, a Colorado route operator that leases amusement machines to arcades or bars. “They have good prices.”
Housed in a large white warehouse at 345 W. 62nd Ave. in unincorporated Adams County, Mountain Coin’s Colorado operation sells amusement and vending machines to route operators.
Mountain Coin’s sister company, A&E Amusements, leases machines and sometimes makes loans to bar owners who agree to install its devices.
Still another Kingston company — Fidelity Funding — finances the transactions for bar owners who need a loan.
Over the years, some of those machines have had a gambling motif, law enforcement officials say.
In a typical neighborhood bar, a video poker machine prominently displays a sign reading “for amusement only.”
A more accurate label would be “for appearances only,” said Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Bob Brown. Trusted regulars at these bars can use these machines as gambling devices and win or lose as much as the fates allow.
Symes, Mountain Coin’s former Utah manager, scoffs at the disclaimer signs on the machines.
“They always paid off,” he said.
Symes, who worked for Mountain Coin from 1969 until he was fired on New Year’s Day 1995, does not hide his animosity toward the Kingstons. He says they threw him out after he sustained a crippling on-the-job injury.
“It’s a shame that his recollection of events is mostly fantasy,” Elden Kingston said of Symes.
The CBI learned about Mountain Coin almost by accident.
During a 1995 crackdown on illegal gaming, agents were investigating route operators, including A&E Amusements.
Undercover agents asked Bruno Londino, A&E’s manager, if they could buy a slot machine, according to CBI records. Sure, Londino said, as long as Mountain Coin agreed.
The agents became curious. What was Mountain Coin?
On July 5, 1995, they visited the Mountain Coin warehouse on West 62nd Avenue and met with regional manager Jack Brown.
Brown had two slot machines — called 8-line machines — on display for sale, one for $1,795, the other for $2,295. When the undercover agents said they wanted to use the machines for gambling, Brown showed them the devices’ “knock-off” switch,
which can erase credits in case a curious law enforcement officer shows up, a CBI report said.
To pay off gambling winnings, a machine must be able to keep track of a player’s score. But such accumulation of credits — except in slot machines in legally licensed casinos — is illegal.
According to the CBI report, Mountain Coin’s manager advised the would-be buyers to obtain remote-control knock-off switches because cops were familiar with the ones on the back of the machines.
Jack Brown also advised the buyers to place “For Amusement Only” signs on their machines, explaining that “if a stranger tries to get paid off, the stranger can be told the machine is only for entertainment,” the CBI report said.
The purchasers would be pleased, Brown said. The machines would bring in between $600 and $800 a week, paying for themselves in three weeks. Even if authorities eventually confiscated the slots, profits already would have been banked.
The agents returned to Mountain Coin eight days later to pick up one machine. There, technician Eddie Martinez showed them the remote-control switch he had crafted for their machine, the CBI report said.
The CBI purchased two more slot machines before arresting Jack Brown and Martinez, who subsequently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of possessing an illegal gaming device.
“To my knowledge, Mountain Coin has never sold any illegal 8-line or video poker machines in the state of Colorado,” Elden Kingston said.
The CBI crackdown on illegal gaming devices in Colorado lasted two years and resulted in multiple charges against individuals and companies. The CBI confiscated more than 300 machines and prosecuted 30 individuals on gaming-related charges.
“It was like shooting fish in a barrel,” CBI agent Bob Brown said.
Some illegal slot machines had passed through Mountain Coin, he said. The CBI’s crackdown ended in April 1997 when agents felt they had cleaned up much of the problem.
Jack Brown, Mountain Coin’s regional manager, said his company no longer distributes gambling machines. Elden Kingston, head of Mountain Coin’s operations, said the company does not distribute any gaming devices.
The sale of slot machines was not the only foray the Kingstons have made into Colorado gambling.
In 1982, eight years before voters sanctioned casino gambling in Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek, casino-style “charitable gambling” exploded in Colorado as a way for nonprofit groups to raise funds.
A loophole in the law opened the door for widespread professional gamblers and casino operators to move into Colorado.
The Kingston organization — through A&E Amusements — was by far the largest player, the Colorado Department of Revenue said at the time.
Nonprofit organizations rented large meeting rooms in Denver-area hotels, and A&E stuffed them with roulette wheels, craps and blackjack tables and hundreds of slot machines.
Professional pit bosses hired by A&E ran the affairs.
Regulators closed the loophole in 1983, and wide-open charitable gambling was outlawed.
Elden Kingston said A&E’s involvement in charitable gambling was a venture of a former owner who conducted the gaming “on his own time.”
Today, Mountain Coin is fighting an order from the New Mexico Gaming Control Board to stop distributing gaming machines in that state.
Suing bar owners
Through their subsidiary, A&E Amusements, the Kingstons also have made loans to Colorado bars.
A&E’s typical contract with a bar owner calls for a 50-50 split of the profits from the amusement machines. A&E loans to bars are paid off from the bar owner’s share until the debt is satisfied.
The agreements contain a clause that can cost a bar owner dearly, as former Denver Broncos cornerback Mike Harden learned.
Harden and former Denver Nuggets star Fat Lever opened Fat ‘n’ Mike’s sports bar at 1512 Lawrence St. in 1989. After Lever was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, Harden remained the owner.
He obtained a $4,000 loan from A&E in 1992 and signed a three-year contract to have the company install music and amusement machines.
Fat ‘n’ Mike’s was never much of a moneymaker, but Harden sold the bar two months later to a firm that renamed it Mugsy’s.
A&E could have picked up its machines and placed them at other locations, but it sued Harden for the $200 a week it had expected to earn from them for the next three years at Fat ‘n Mike’s. A judge ordered Harden to pay A&E $33,000 in damages and expenses.
The contract clause that cost Harden the most — the issue of lost revenue — is controversial. Usually, when a lease is broken, the owner of property must attempt to lease it again, Denver attorney Scott Robinson said.
Only the amount actually lost between the time the lease is broken and when the equipment is leased again is considered an actual loss. But Harden and several others did not argue this point in the lawsuits, and judgments were entered for the full amount of the contract.
Three former members of Utah polygamist groups share experiences at the Salt Lake City offices of Tapestry of Polygamy, an organization that assists women who have left such relationships. From left are Vicky Prunty, Lillian Bowles and Rowenna Erickson.
‘I was brainwashed’
Scott Stoddard wants to write a book about his experiences with the Kingston clan. But he is torn by conflicting loyalties.
“It’s a highly emotional kind of thing for me, because every single member of my family is in it,” he said of the clan.
“Ninety percent are real good, honest people who are in it for God’s purposes. I’m not interested in hurting the group. I only want to help them understand how they’re being used.”
Other former clan members say it is difficult for many to leave the group.
“I was brainwashed,” said Nathan Atwood, another man who left the clan. “I did believe that Charles Elden Kingston had a vision.”
Atwood said he worked in a Kingston coal mine for 23 years before “the spirituality started to fade out. Then I started to look at reality.”
Now he has left not only the Kingstons but the Mormon faith.
Perhaps the most bewildering aspect of the Kingston clan is the women. Why do they stay?
“If you try to figure it out, you’ll probably go nuts,” said Bill Adams, who once worked for the Kingstons and has relatives in the group. “It’s a mystery.
“I used to have to inspect their cars. I’ve had a lot of the girls driving around in cars that were totally unsafe. I had one girl one day break down on me when I told her this car’s not worth fixing. She was one of the leader’s wives. He’s a multimillionaire.”
“My son-in-law’s sister is married to his holiness (Paul Kingston),” Adams said. “She’s 30 years old and has nine kids. And she has to decide each month whether she’s going to pay the rent or feed some of the kids.”
Adams offered a possible answer to the mystery.
“If you were raised in the whole group from when you were a kid, and the whole family, your cousins, brothers, sisters, everyone in your family is part of it, where are you going to go? And say if you have nine kids — what are you going to do?”
“When you’re coming out of (the group), you pretty much have to step into an entirely different world,” said Vicky Prunty, a board member of Tapestry of Polygamy.
When Prunty left a polygamist group separate from the Kingstons, she said she had to get Social Security certificates for her children, documents she had been taught were “the mark of the beast.”
She had trouble setting up a bank account and shopping at a grocery store.
“One lady from the Kingston group said that even going to a restaurant and trying to figure out what she wanted on the menu was something that was very difficult to do,” Prunty said.
Rowenna Erickson was born and raised in the Kingston clan and was involved in a plural marriage. Then, at age 51, she said she saw the light.
“These guys are really sick,” she says. “The sexual acts and the incest and the actions against women and children are so sick. …
“You have to be rehabilitated from this. It has taken me years.”
“It’s not like some women in Denver or California or New York getting involved in this, because they just wouldn’t,” Prunty said. “These are Utah women that have been taught that they are inferior to the male sex. Getting out of it is very difficult.”
Most women don’t want to.
On a recent trip to Salt Lake City, a Denver Rocky Mountain News reporter and photographer watched generally smiling women walking in and out of Kingston businesses, often carrying babies in portable car seats. When the journalists entered one building, the women quickly snatched their kids and rushed through an interior door.
At one point, Paul Kingston, the group’s leader, walked past a woman leaving the rear door of a Kingston business. As she walked away, she craned her head back to look at him.
As if by instinct, Kingston turned and waved, giving the young lady a big smile. He then disappeared quickly inside.