Judge to decide punishment for FLDS-linked company’s child labor violations

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge is considering what punishment should be handed down against a southern Utah company accused of using children from the Fundamentalist LDS Church as labor in work projects.

U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell heard arguments Friday from the U.S. Department of Labor and Paragon Contractors’ attorney about what penalties should be handed out. She did not immediately make a ruling.

Labor Department attorney Karen Bobela told the judge that violations were still taking place.

“We have no confidence they’re in compliance now. Since the hearing we had just a few months ago, Wage-Hour (division) has received complaints. We received a complaint there’s child labor happening on a roof in southern Utah,” she said.

Paragon attorney Rick Sutherland insisted there were no child labor violations. Judge Campbell was skeptical, telling him “you’re not a member of that community” but conceded there is no evidence of non-compliance right now.

An image by CNN of the 2012 pecan harvest in southern Utah where hundreds of FLDS children were put to work in what federal authorities claim was a violation of child labor laws.

An image by CNN of the 2012 pecan harvest in southern Utah where hundreds of FLDS children were put to work in what federal authorities claim was a violation of child labor laws.

Bobela said Paragon has never promised it would comply with the law in the future and asked the judge to appoint someone to oversee the company, with requirements Paragon provide the names and ages of employees.

Bobela also asked for money for children put to work, but Judge Campbell questioned if that money just goes back to the FLDS Church.

“How are you going to make this effective?” she asked. “Money is not something that is individually possessed in that community.”

The Labor Department said likely ex-FLDS members would be submitting claims for money, with judge’s approval.

In June, Judge Campbell found Paragon Contractors and Brian Jessop in contempt of court for the 2012 incident, where more than a thousand FLDS children were spotted picking pecans on a Hurricane farm. That was in violation of a 2007 order on child labor law violations.

In her ruling, Judge Campbell laid some of the blame on FLDS Church leaders, which she said threatened retaliation if they didn’t go to work on the farm. But the judge on Friday seemed unwilling to add the church itself to any injunction prohibiting child labor.

“We do have the First Amendment, we do have a church and we do have a non-party,” Judge Campbell said.

The FLDS Church is based on the Utah-Arizona border and led by Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence for child sex assault related to underage marriages. His brother, Lyle Jeffs, is a fugitive wanted by the FBI in connection with a massive food stamp fraud case against 11 people.

This is the latest in a series of labor cases brought against companies tied to the FLDS Church. Last year, there was a $2 million lawsuit filed against the FLDS Church itself for child labor violations. Phaze Concrete was sued in August for alleged labor violations. That company has projects going on across the state, including construction work at Utah State University.