December 16, 2019

A lawsuit alleges leaders of a Utah polygamous sect bilked federal student aid programs by instructing teenagers to omit their fathers and other sources of income when applying for benefits.

Paul Kingston, the top man within the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group or The Order, is accused of overseeing what the lawsuit calls a scheme.

He directed some of his own children — the plaintiffs estimate he has 27 wives and more than 300 offspring — to seek more financial aid than they would have otherwise been entitled to, the suit cites one of his daughters as saying, and when the assistance exceeded what the student needed to attend college, the sect kept the proceeds.

The suit says sect members might have obtained “tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars” through false applications. The plaintiffs estimate 40 to 50 children from the sect were college age in each of the past six years.

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Jeanne Markey, a partner at the Philadelphia law firm of Cohen Milstein and co-chair of a group there that handles cases of whistleblowers reporting fraud against the government, reviewed the complaint at the request of The Tribune. She said the lawsuit is “well plead” and noted there have been previous successful qui tam cases in student aid programs.

“This is an indication that an experienced qui tam firm looked at the facts,” Markey said, “and realized it was a case that was worth pursuing.”

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Markey said the plaintiffs are making the case to a judge that the Kingston Group is a cult and criminal enterprise rather than a religion.

“They’re trying to paint a picture,” Markey said, “give the judge and, frankly, the defendants, when they see the complaint, give them the context, which is to the effect, ‘We know what's up. We really know what your game is.’”

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