Polygamous town contractor must pay $200K in child-labor case

This file photo shows a young girl of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, September 2015 | Inset image by Albert Floyd/iStock/Getty Images Plus; photo by Michael Durrant, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah contractor with ties to a polygamous group must pay $200,000 in back wages to children who were forced to pick pecans for long hours in the cold without pay, after a U.S. appeals court upheld a ruling on this week.

But the company doesn’t have to hire an independent attorney to monitor the business for five years, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling issued Tuesday. That watchdog was ordered by a lower court judge to deter the company from using child labor again, but the appeals court judges decided that exceeded the court’s authority.

The decision marks a partial victory for both sides in the long-running case that centers on a 2012 harvest in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. The community is the home base of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that practices polygamy.

The Department of Labor, which accused Paragon of violating a 2007 agreement by putting nearly 200 children to work picking pecans for long hours in the cold without pay, didn’t return an email seeking comment.

Attorneys for Paragon, which argued the kids were volunteering with their families to pick up fallen nuts for the needy, didn’t return emails and phone calls seeking comment either.

The Salt Lake Tribune first reported the ruling, which came four months after judges in the Denver-based appeals court heard arguments from both sides.

In the ruling, the judges rejected the argument that the kids were volunteering. They pointed to testimony in the case from children and parents who said church leaders pressured members to send kids to work the harvest under threat of discipline if they didn’t.

Prosecutors contend the company has deep ties to a polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs, who was under pressure to make money for its leaders when it used 1,400 unpaid workers, including 175 children.

Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas after being convicted of sexually assaulting girls he considered brides. Now group leaders don’t have a spokesman or contact where they can be reached.

The appeals court overruled the appointment of the special master, saying the penalty invoked by U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell exceeded the court’s authority. The move needed to be based on more than just the possibility that Paragon might put children to work again, the ruling said.

The district court was understandably frustrated with what it saw as repeated and willful violations by Paragon,” the judges said. “But no evidence existed regarding Paragon’s employment of children at the time of the district court’s sanction.”

It’s unclear how the ruling will impact a separate but related case in which the government accuses Paragon Contractors of changing its company name to Par 2 and in 2015 and 2016 again putting children to work on construction jobs.
Par 2 denies the allegations, saying it’s a totally separate company.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • HerePliggyWiggy March 17, 2018 at 8:28 am

    Child slave labor is very common around here. There’s a guy who nails signs up all over Cedar City advertising that he does fencing. His crew consists of about a dozen school-age kids. I see framing and other contractors all over Home Depot with their crews of child slaves. It’s rampant. This pecan-picking must not have paid his fair share to the higher-ups so they turned him in.

    And for the girls – remember – “Keep Sweet”.

  • Mike P March 17, 2018 at 10:21 am

    I agree Wiggy. The Framing crews and especially the Landscape contractors…..Watched it happen for the past 2 years as our tract was being built

  • utahdiablo March 17, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    But it’s ok for the FLDS to steal $12 Million in us taxpayer welfare funds?

    • HerePliggyWiggy March 19, 2018 at 8:22 am

      So long as they give 15% of it to the “church”.

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