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Utah installs new finance officer at public school run by polygamous sect

Proposed director not approved due to email referring to Kingston group as a ‘criminal syndicate’
Posted at 9:52 PM, Sep 08, 2022

HEBER CITY, Utah — A public school run by the polygamous Kingston group received a new finance officer appointed by the state on Thursday as it continues to spend taxpayer dollars on family businesses.

Dozens of parents from Vanguard Academy attended a Utah State Charter School Board (SCSB) meeting in Heber City, urging the state to stop trying to fire its school board, the nine-person body tasked with voting on school spending.

Some parents were angry. Others cried.

None of the parents addressed the payments of millions of taxpayer dollars to Kingston businesses first exposed by FOX 13 News in 2020 and later confirmed by the state.

“When my four older kids were going to public school, they were treated differently,” one parent stated. “They were focused on not being singled out.”

SCSB Executive Director Jennifer Lambert noted that charter schools in Utah are in fact public schools, not designed for members of a specific culture to congregate.

In August, the SCSB voted to remove and replace all nine of Vanguard Academy’s board members.

Since then, Vanguard Academy has publicly considered whether to become a private school.

The board will not be removed until October at the earliest, depending on the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Vanguard Academy.

Dave Mortensen, an attorney for the school, has been fighting to save Vanguard Academy’s board. He did not object to the appointment of a new director or finance officer at the school.

The SCSB appointed Moss Adams, an accounting firm with locations across the United States, as the new finance officer for Vanguard Academy. The state expressed optimism that Moss Adams will hold the school accountable in its spending of taxpayer dollars.

The state has not yet appointed a new Vanguard Academy director.

Mark Ursic, the current director of Renaissance Academy, was initially considered for the Vanguard Academy position but ultimately not approved due to the potential appearance of bias.

According to an email obtained by FOX 13 News, he referred to the Kingston group as a “criminal syndicate.”

“Based on what was presented at the SCSB meeting and a review of their finances, there is no question they’re a criminal syndicate—they just happen to be polygamists too,” Ursic wrote. “Do you think if I was giving all my family members jobs, paying them 25% below market wages, violating purchasing statutes and leasing my own building to the school for 1M a year the state would look the other way because I only have one wife?”

Ursic’s statements echo comments made by former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff who has prosecuted members of the Kingston group and referred to them as an "organized crime family."

MORE: Lawsuit claims polygamous sect traffics children for sex, labor

Ursic said he understood the SCSB’s decision to not appoint him to the Vanguard Academy director position, but he stood by his email.

He cited court documents filed by Kent Ortell Pollard Bull, the son of Vanguard Academy board member Kent Johnson.

Bull is one of many former members of the Kingston group who has explained to the state how Paul Kingston – the group’s leader and prophet – controls everybody’s money within the group.

“That’s the definition of a criminal syndicate,” Ursic said. “You have parents in there who want the best for their kids, and I support that 100 percent, but we’ve got to do that and follow the rules. Some of them aren’t rules. They’re laws.”

Amanda Rae, another former member of the Kingston group, spoke to FOX 13 News in January 2021 about how money is spent within the group.

“From day one, they teach you how important consecration is,” she explained. “Everything that you own, all of your incomings and outgoing, have to be ‘in the name of the Lord.’”

The state has not given a timeline yet on when it will install a new director at Vanguard Academy.

Ursic said he believes it won’t matter unless a judge allows the Vanguard Academy board to be replaced in October as well.

“We should all be supporting that kind of transparency, because it’s not our money.”

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