Can you believe it? Paul Kingston, 44-year-old patriarch of the Kingston clan, a prosperous, Salt Lake City-based family in the US state of Utah, has sired 145 children from 25 wives and is still going strong. In fact, most of the adult males belonging to this group have just one wife or more than 20, although polygamy is forbidden by federal and state laws. The Kingston family belongs to the Mormon Church, which was founded in New York in 1835, and which once viewed multiple marriage as a 'guarantee of eternal peace in heaven'. Although officially the Mormon Church no longer permits polygamy, its staunch followers continue to maintain the banned tradition. The Kingston clan is not alone in following polygamy. There are many other families wedded to the practice, despite the fact that Utah state laws are against it. A recently released book by award- winning author Jon Krakauer, Under The Banner Of Heaven, focuses on the polygamous community of Hildale, in Colorado, where teenage girls are forced to quit school to marry older men. The girls who rebel against the old tradition are often beaten by their parents. The Kingstons are estimated to have 800 to 1,200 members, who operate more than 100 privately held businesses throughout western America. The southern Nevada headquarters of their Mountain Coin Machine Distributors, Able Amusement, and Standard Restaurant Supply operate from offices in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and other towns near the Utah-Arizona border. Their financial holdings are valued at more than US$100 (about HK$776 million) million nationwide. But their young wives rarely see evidence of the money. They are often found living like impoverished single mothers in rundown Salt Lake City housing owned by the family. Ed Firmage, a University of Utah law school professor who has written extensively about Mormonism and plural marriage, says: 'What the Kingstons have done is what always happens. When we outlaw a group, we send them into the fringes. Within 100 miles [160 kilometres] of where I stand now you can find 100,000 polygamists in any direction.' What the Kingstons and other families professing to follow the Mormon faith in Utah do is hardly secret. Salt Lake City newspapers often carry stories about the family and its troubles with law enforcement agencies. Photos of Paul Kingston and the late-founder of the clan, C.E. Kingston, regularly appear with the stories. Utah's homegrown version of polygamy has received regional and national media attention in recent years. But it has not come infor widespread communal condemnation, although the authorities have launched prosecutions against some people who have allegedly harassed their wives to meet their sexual demands. LuAnn Kingston, 24, who was forced to marry her first cousin, Jeremy, in a secret ceremony and become his fourth wife, has blown the lid off the Kingstons polygamy racket. LuAnn left her husband three years ago after five years of marriage, and has now launched legal proceedings against him. 'He always treated me like garbage,' she says. 'But I only had to deal with it once a week when he visited. But when he started demanding his conjugal rights every day, I could not put up with it and had to rebel, whatever the elder members of the clan might say to condemn me. They like to say it's religion, but it's more about money, power and sex.' The Kingston wives are expected to give birth each year. Usually, their pregnancies start when they are in their teens. LuAnn's 22-year-old cousin, Mary Ann Kingston, in August filed a highly publicised civil suit in Salt Lake City court seeking US$110 million from the Kingstons. She was lashed 28 times on the back by her father, after she had tried to flee from her uncle, who she was forced to marry six years ago. She had become his 15th wife and could not endure the sexual slavery that had been forced on her by the elders of the clan, ever alert to catch and punish those who do not abide by now-defunct Mormon Church dictates. The legal action reportedly involves 200 Kingston family members and nearly 100 businesses associated with the clan. Utah's Attorney-General, Mark Shurtleff, has launched investigations in an attempt to put an end to the physical and sexual abuses tied to polygamy. But, he says, it is not easy to prove the charges. For instance the family patriarch with 25 wives is legally married to one of them. The rest are 'spiritual' unions and not sanctioned by the government. But the attorney-general's office aggressively pursued LuAnn's case against the clan. 'It just bothers me,' says Mr Shurtleff. 'I don't know why there have not been efforts in the past. I am not going to sit back, knowing these crimes and abuses have been committed.' But what can law enforcement agencies do when many of the wives say their chosen lifestyle provides a sense of spiritual fulfilment that is lacking in monogamous marriages. They speak reverently of large families and close non-sexual relations with multiple sister-wives. Ron Barton, an investigator with the attorney-general's office, says: 'My perception is that the Kingstons elite run the businesses and give most of their male members a chance for an education. But most of the Kingston women are breeders and live in poverty.' The Mormon Church disallows any relationship with polygamists. Many practitioners of plural or spiritual marriages have been ex-communicated. Church spokesman Dale Bills says: 'Today, polygamy is outlawed in the church - and has been for a century. Any church members adopting the practise today would be ex-communicated.'