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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Child-Labor Case Dogs Cult Leader’s Brother

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Led by the brother of imprisoned cult leader Warren Jeffs, a fundamentalist Mormon church cheated 1,400 children and adults of two years wages for pecan harvest work, the Labor Department claims in court.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez sued the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lyle Jeffs and Dale Barlow on Tuesday in Federal Court.

Workers who harvested pecans at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch, outside of Hurricane, were not paid minimum wage or overtime compensation from Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2013, the Labor Department says.

Also Tuesday, the Labor Department filed an Order to Show Cause against Paragon Contractors and its president Brian Jessop, charging them with contempt of court for violating a 2007 consent judgment against hiring children and violating other labor laws.

Workers pruned trees, mowed fields, did general maintenance, picked and bagged pecans, and did other farm and packing work.

The fundamentalist church employed at least 125 children younger than 12; 50 children 12 to 13; and 25 children 14 and 15, the lawsuit states.

Leaders of the polygamous sect directed schools in Hildale, Utah, and nearby Colorado City, Ariz., to close so that children and adults could do the work, according to the complaint against lead plaintiff Jeffs.

"The employers did not pay these individuals for the work they performed," the complaint states.

"Defendants knew that they did not pay these individuals for the work they performed," Perez added.

"If defendants did not know that failing to pay wages to employees for work they was prohibited by the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act], they showed reckless disregard as to whether failing to pay employees for work performed was prohibited by the FLSA."

Bishop Lyle Jeffs has headed day-to-day operations of the sect since his brother, self-professed prophet Warren Jeffs, was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two girls he called his "spiritual wives."

Barlow, an employee of the fundamentalist church and Paragon Contractors Corp., lives in a mobile home in Roosevelt, Utah, according to the complaint.

The Labor Department fined the church, Jeffs and Paragon $1.9 million in May.

"For years, these employers have trampled on the rights of workers, both children and adults, and violated our child labor laws forcing minors to work for them. Such disregard for the rights of all workers, especially children, will not be tolerated," Labor Department administrator David Weil said Tuesday.

The Labor Department lamented that the work took place during school hours and involved children.

"For most children, fall begins a new school year full of possibilities to learn and prepare for their lives ahead and future jobs," the Department of Labor said in a statement. "Unfortunately, for hundreds of children in southern Utah and northern Arizona, the season is a time for hard work harvesting pecans by hand for commercial sale."

Paragon did not respond to a request for comment.

The sect does not have a designated spokesperson.

The Labor Department seeks an injunction, payment of two years' wages, and penalties for child labor, overtime and record-keeping violations.

It is represented by John Huber.

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