With 80 search warrants in hand for DNA samples and other evidence, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he was set to conduct a sweeping raid on a secretive polygamous clan in 2006.
Instead, Shurtleff changed his mind and clan leaders quickly made themselves scarce. He made the disclosure in an interview with KTVX-TV in Salt Lake City.
"We elected not to do that and to try and work with their attorney," Shurtleff said of the Kingston family, a 1,500-member group based in the Salt Lake City area that has a wide range of businesses, from pawn shops to dairies and a coal mine.
"And, of course, the result of that was all our subjects disappeared, our targets disappeared and we didn't get the warrants served like we hoped to do," Shurtleff told the TV station Tuesday.
An investigator who worked the case seemed shocked by the attorney general's disclosure.
"I am not going to comment on an investigation I still believe is viable," said Jim Hill, who now heads up a crime lab for Salt Lake City police.
An attorney for the Kingston family, Daniel Irvin, said Shurtleff was seeking DNA in an effort to prove incest was occurring inside the clan.
Irvin said he sought to get the warrants quashed in court as violation of the Kingston family's civil rights. He didn't succeed but said the warrants were never served.
"We considered going in a similar SWAT-type I guess for lack of a better word operation into a church meeting and bar the doors and start collecting evidence," Shurtleff told KTVX.
But Irvin said the Kingston clan doesn't maintain any central location where members gather.
"They all live in little homes around the (Salt Lake) valley and the state. There's no compound, so where do you go with the SWAT team?" he told The Associated Press.
Shurtleff spokesman Paul Murphy confirmed the investigation Wednesday but insisted it wasn't planned as a Texas-style raid.
"Serving 80 warrants means handing 80 people a piece of paper," Murphy said. "It doesn't mean going in with armored vehicles and sweeping up 412 children."
He was referring to Eldorado, Texas, where authorities have taken custody of more than 400 children from the Yearning For Zion Ranch over allegations that a polygamous sect there with Utah origins was rife with abuse.
In Utah, Shurtleff said that instead of conducting a sweep of the Kingston clan, he decided to work with the family's attorneys.
But "nothing took place and those warrants expired," Murphy said Wednesday.
It's uncertain who runs the Kingston family's business or religious empire. The faith variously known as the Latter Day Church of Christ, The Order and the Davis County Cooperative Society is believed to generate $150 million a year in revenue from businesses that include restaurant-supply companies and A-1 Disposal, a trash-pickup firm.
In 1999, John Daniel Kingston, a prominent member of the family, was jailed for 28 weeks after pleading no contest to felony child abuse charges.
Kingston, now 52, was accused of beating his 16-year-old daughter, Mary Ann, for running away from a prearranged polygamous marriage to his brother, David O. Kingston, who served nearly four years in prison for felony incest and unlawful sexual contact with a minor.
John Daniel Kingston has "no position of authority" in the Latter Day Church of Christ and has committed no crimes that would warrant a sweeping raid, Irvin said.
"If they had probable cause against my guy, they would have arrested him a long time ago," he said.