A judge has ordered a Utah contracting company to pay $1 million in unpaid wages to 104 children of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who were subjected to “oppressive child labor.”
Paragon Contractors and its owner, Brian Jessop, used children from the sect — an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism — as unpaid workers on pecan farms from 2008 to 2013.
The children complained being cold, being given limited access to toilets, and being required to work to keep their families in good standing with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The ruling follows a 2018 order for Paragon Contractors to put $200,000 into a fund for back wages for victims. This new ruling says Paragon must add an additional $813,000 to the fund within a month.
The Daily Mail reports:
Prosecutors believe Paragon worked closely with FLDS leaders, including the notorious sex offender Warren Jeffs, to funnel children to the harvests.
US District Judge Tena Campbell on Tuesday ordered the company, who she said displayed a ‘clear pattern of oppressive child labor’, to pay back the money within 30 days.
Labor officials said the majority of the children worked an average of six days a week and about three months each year. Authorities believe the kids were pulled out of school to work at the farm.
The practices were described by former child workers and captured by news cameras during a harvest in 2012.
Paragon previously argued the children volunteered with their families to pick up fallen nuts for the needy.
Farm work falls outside of child labor law in Utah as long as it is performed outside of school hours. Yet in this case, as the children were homeschooled, federal prosecutors argued that it didn’t matter whether the children were taught at home — they should not be working during public school hours.
Despite the positive ruling, one of the challenges for labor officials has been finding victims as the church did not keep a record of children working for them.
Following the 2018 ruling, officials put set up a hotline, posted flyers in and around Hildale and Colorado City, and did public service announcements on radio and TV in Utah. 135 people responded, and 104 were determined eligible.
Judge Campbell explained this approach was needed “because the names and ages of the children who worked for defendants were largely unknown (they were members of an elusive, closely-knit polygamous group in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona).”