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$ A Fistful of Kingston Dollars $

The Tangled Web of Kingston Wealth

 

The chances are, if you live in Beehive state, you have done business with the Kingstons. Bought sodas from their vending machines, shopped at their stores, played one of their pinball or video games, rented an apartment, purchased restaurant supplies from them, heated yourself with their coal.

The Gordian Knot

Kingston-owned businesses pepper the state. If someone is a Utah resident, they have put cash into Kingston pockets. The tangled thread of business ownership is like the Gordian knot. Trying to unravel it, a feat worthy of Alexander the Great.

This much is known, the Kingston empire stretches across at least six states and is valued at $150 to $170 million. Many insiders put that dollar estimate much higher. These polygamists are worth some big bucks.

Pubic records show the clan affiliated with 48 businesses in Salt Lake County alone. Tax records reveal $3.3 million in commercial and residential real estate holdings owned by the Kingston entity World Enterprises, which shares the same 53 West Angelo address as The Davis County Cooperative Society (a.k.a. The Latter Day Church of Christ a.k.a. the Kingston Clan). Many Kingston businesses are listed at this nondescript building on Angelo.

The Kingstons even own the 160,000-acre Wine Cup Ranch in northern Nevada, once the property of actor Jimmy Stewart. Merlin Kingston runs a massive cattle operation known as Holtz Inc. from the palatial ranch.

Despite its run-down look, Mountain Coin is one of the Kingstons' most profitable businesses.

Just exactly how many businesses and real estate holdings are in Kingston hands is a mystery. The Latter Day Church of Christ owns many of these assets. And as any high schooler can tell you, those books are closed to the government, let alone any accounting to the public at large. How do you think the Mormon Church or Scientologists keep their holdings from public scrutiny? In America, if you worship God and register like believers into a religion, no taxes for you. At least with stuff that is related to your church. A sweet deal for the pious.

When Church patriarch John Ortell Kingston kicked the bucket in 1987, he arranged for his holdings to be deeded to corporations in which his children or other Kingston clan members were officers.

The wily old fox left nothing to his legal wife, LaDonna Kingston, or any of his vast army of children. But, by deeding all his wealth to his church and corporations controlled by Kingstons, he avoided millions in probate tax while still keeping all those bucks in Kingston pockets. That is the American way after all.

It makes tracking just what the clan owns harder than hell. It also served to keep this vast empire under the public radar. However, when the Kingstons burst onto the public scene in 1998, folks started looking at this fundamentalist church and all the their stuff.

Cornucopia of Companies

What shocked many observers was how many of those businesses were ones that many Utahns, including government offices, patronized.

Some of the higher profile holdings include such beloved entities as The East Side Market, Sportsman's Pawn Shops, Sportsman's Fast Cash, Family True Values Store on Redwood Road, and The Fountain of Youth Health and Athletic Club. An eclectic group of businesses if nothing else.

These ice machines pepper the state. Spiffy Ice shares the same address as Standard Restaurant Equipment.

Other holdings include A1 Disposal, a garbage pick-up service that has done business with the state, county and city governments; Mountain Coin Machine Distributors, vending machines in six western states; Best Distributing Amusement Games, pinball machines and video games provided to bars and other some such; Spiffy Ice and Storage, located in the Kingston-owned Standard Restaurant Equipment building (where the clan hold services).

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Kingstons own such diverse businesses as bail bonds, pawnshops, digital imaging shops and companies with unknown purposes and such non-informative monikers as Hoalt Inc., World Enterprises.

These guys own a lot of stuff.

In a rare interview with the media, a prominent Kingston leader claimed that there is nothing sinister about any of this. It is just good business.

He has a point. The LDS Church owns a lot of diverse property, including TV stations and newspapers, and no one seems to care. It is a polygamist religion owning all these businesses that seems to rankle the public.

"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," Elden Kingston claimed in a faxed interview with The Rocky Mountain News.

Elden Kingston is listed as president of Mountain Coin Machine Distributors. Mountain Coin holds a huge chunk of the vending machine market in Utah and other western states.

"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."

Joe Hill is Dead

Dealing fairly with all people? Workers at the Co-Op Mine in Huntington might disagree. In 2003, several dozen coal miners were fired from the Kingston-owned mining operation. Mine managers contended the workers had been sacked for not returning to work after two fellow miners were disciplined for "job-related issues."

Oddly enough, these same workers had been making noise about poor working conditions at Co-Op. They had openly protested safety concerns, low salaries and lack of benefits.

Bill Estrada reads the agreement with Co-op Mines after canned miners returned to work.

The miners, mostly Latino, were making between $5 and $7 an hour for the dangerous backbreaking work. The national average for coalmine workers across the nation is $18.30 per hours. The Kingstons were getting a deal wage-wise. Workers contacted a mining union to see about forcing better working conditions.

"When the company found out we had contacted the UMWA (an independent mining union) they started making threats," said Bill Estrada, miner for Co-Op. "They said they'd call the INS or the police. They said anyone who considered organizing with the UMWA would be fired."

True to their word, when workers protested in front of mining offices, the Kingston had Emery County Sheriffs remove the offending employees as trespassers. These workers were summarily canned.

However, this tactic backfired. The sackings drew national media attention. Union supporters stationed picket lines in front of various Kingston businesses including the East Side Market. The camera shy Kingstons were once again news. And this time reporters started delving into their finances with a vengeance. It was a shock to many folks to discover that the clan, viewed mostly as a kooky polygamous clan and nothing else, owned a coalmine.

The stories came fast and furious. The extent of the Kingston Empire suddenly was brought to the fore. Many viewed the clan with a new set of eyes.

Kingston Central

This nondescript building at 53 West Angelo St. is listed as the address of several Kingston businesses.

An incomplete list of the corporations in Kingston hands are: Fidelity Funding Corp., Little Red House Montessori, Spectrum Inc., American Digital Systems, Hiawatha Coal Company Inc., IA Castle Corp., West Deep Creek Irrigation & Power Company, Michael's Shoe Repair and Men's Store, World Enterprises, and Coalt Inc.

What some of these organizations do is a mystery. I mean World Enterprises? The name alone sounds like something headed by a James Bond villain. Many act as holding companies for the Kingstons' vast tracts of real estate, including rental properties.

These guys diversify. Digital imaging and shoe repair. What a combo. The only philosophy that seems behind the Kingston acquisition of businesses is; "what makes money?"

Many list 53 W. Angelo St. as their business address, a rather shoddy building tucked away on a back street in west Salt Lake.

So is this location the primary Kingston Headquarters? Some sources have said it exists only as a phone bank where a couple of employees field calls for Kingston corporations.

The law offices of Paul and Carl Kingston are located at 3212 S. State Street. Many believe this is the true headquarters of the Kingston Clan.

The more probable site for Kingston Central is 3212 S. State Street. This two-story brick building has no business signs, but houses the law offices for Paul Kingston (recognized family patriarch) and his brother, Carl. Carl Kingston is the attorney for the Davis County Cooperative Society and other Kingston concerns.

What are the Kingstons doing with all this cash? No one really knows. They certainly don't spend it on a lavish life style. The clan is notoriously parsimonious when it comes to doling out the cash. Church patriarchs often resort to state welfare when it comes to providing for their large families.

Kingston members that work for family concerns are reported to be paid by a voucher system or scrip redeemable at Kingston stores. Many are paid minimum wage or less according to former clan members.

Why All the Cash?

Rowenna Erickson, former Kingston wife, has said all this cash hoarding is the way the Kingstons are preparing for the apocalypse. Elden Kingston has mocked this theory and said the family is only a clan of good businessmen. Maybe the Kingstons look at all that wealth as a buffer against undo interference into family religious practices by meddling outsiders. Who knows?

All that is certain is that Kingstons, despite public scrutiny, still run profitable businesses and rake in the dough.

A $110 million lawsuit by Mary Ann Kingston, a former member who fled the clan to avoid a forced marriage with her uncle, threatens to throw open the books on Kingston holdings. If the suit goes to trial, a better understanding of the clan's worth could be revealed. So far the Kingstons, through countersuits aimed at Mary Ann, Erickson and the Salt Lake Tribune among others, have staved off the pending litigation.

Those close to the case have said it is going to be a long time before Mary Ann's suit sees the inside of a courtroom.

    

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