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Businessman tied to polygamous group to stay in jail pending $500M fraud trial

Businessman tied to polygamous group to stay in jail pending $500M fraud trial

(Weber County Sheriff's Office)


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SALT LAKE CITY — One of two biodiesel executives with ties to a northern Utah polygamous group will stay in jail on charges he had a role in carrying out a $500 million tax credit scheme.

Federal Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells on Friday agreed with prosecutors that Isaiah Kingston, the chief financial officer of Washakie Renewable Energy, is a flight risk and a danger to the public. She ordered him to remain behind bars as the fraud and money laundering case against him plays out.

Kingston's attorneys earlier in the detention hearing said his client cannot access the millions the company holds overseas and was acting on orders when he transferred $52 million in Washakie money to Turkey, which does not currently allow the United States to extradite those accused of crimes.

"I don't see your client as a pawn," Wells replied. "Are you suggesting, really, that he didn't know what he was doing in transferring those huge amounts of money to a place where he can't get it back?"

Defense attorney Scott Williams argued that Kingston shares a modest 2,400 square-foot home in West Valley City with his wife, eight children and niece. He questioned the thoroughness of the government's investigation, saying no agents ever knocked on his client's door. In addition, Kingston has not fled to date even though federal agents served a search warrant on his business in 2016, Williams said.

A court-ordered ankle monitor and seizure of his client's passport would be enough to prevent Kingston from blowing off future court dates, he argued. Williams said after the hearing that his client will appeal the judge's order.

Prosecutors painted a different picture, saying the $134 million the company holds in Turkish bank accounts is a "parachute" allowing Isaiah Kingston to flee a possible prison sentence on a conviction. Since 2010, he has traveled to Hong Kong, Brussels, Ghana, Calgary, Dublin, Panama, Fiji, France and Cancun, they said. He also met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, demonstrating he is seeking to develop political relationships there, they allege.

"Quite simply, we will not see him again if he is released," said prosecutor Leslie Goemaat.

Text messages that his brother, Washakie CEO Jacob Kingston, allegedly sent to arrange bribes for judges and hire a go-between to intimidate witnesses make reference to Isaiah Kingston delivering the cash, she said, showing he is a danger. Goematt said someone threw a brick at the house of a government witness in the case Friday morning.

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The attorneys made similar arguments in the same courtroom Wednesday. Wells at the earlier hearing determined the men would stay in jail at least until attorneys could argue at length about whether they should be released ahead of trial.

A federal grand jury indictment unsealed on Aug 24 accuses the executives of creating fake records from 2010 to 2016 in order to obtain the federal tax credits, then laundering the money. The leaders of the company that billed itself as a top producer of biodiesel and chemicals have pleaded not guilty to the charges of fraud and money laundering.

The brothers are members of the Davis County Cooperative Society, or the Kingston Order, which practices polygamy. The government in court documents said the group has hundreds of homes and businesses that it could use to hide the men if they are released, but Williams said there's no evidence the group has helped defendants in criminal cases to disappear in the past.

Isaiah Kingston sat quietly at the Friday hearing, wearing a blue jail uniform. He once stole a glance at his wife, who Williams said is due to have a baby any time.

His jury trial is set to begin Oct 29.

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