Salt Lake City — A federal judge has found a company with ties to the Fundamentalist LDS Church to be in contempt of court for putting hundreds of children to work on a southern Utah farm.
In an order issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell ruled that Brian Jessop and Paragon Contractors was in contempt of court for the 2012 incident, where more than a thousand FLDS children were seen picking pecans at a Hurricane farm. It was in violation of a 2007 order on child labor law violations.
“The children were not volunteers. Also, much of the work occurred during school hours and was hazardous, so that work does not qualify for FLSA’s agricultural exemption,” the judge wrote. In her ruling, Judge Campbell pointed some of the blame at the FLDS Church itself, which she said ordered members to go to work on the farm.
“Moreover, hanging over the decision whether to work was the threat of retaliation by the FLDS Church if the members did not follow instructions,” she wrote.
The polygamous FLDS Church is based on the Utah-Arizona border and is led by Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage “marriages.” His brother, FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs, and 10 others are facing federal charges related to a massive food stamp fraud scheme that prosecutors allege bilked taxpayers out of more than $12 million.
The case has lingered in the federal court for years, with the U.S. Department of Labor pursuing sanctions against the company and the church itself in related cases. The federal government last year filed a lawsuit against the FLDS Church seeking nearly $2 million for child labor law violations.
In depositions, FLDS members refused to answer questions and sought protection under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the “Hobby Lobby” case when it came to religious freedom.
Judge Campbell did not decide penalties. She asked Jessop, the company and the Labor Department to file briefs later this month before making a determination.
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