FLDS church, its bishop and a contractor ordered to pay nearly $1 million for making children work without pay for years
Amy Simonson, CNN
Published at | Updated at
(CNN) — A federal judge in Utah ordered the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) and two of its affiliates to pay nearly $1 million for allegedly violating child labor laws when they employed minors on a ranch without paying them for years.
The decision comes after a 2012 video showed women and children working to harvest pecans at a farm in southern Utah. The US Department of Labor had filed a complaint, accusing bishop Lyle Jeffs and his business contractor, Brian Jessop, of illegally hiring the children.
U.S. District Court Judge Jill Parrish on Wednesday ordered Jeffs to pay $312,079.30 in back wages and $312,079.30 in damages, according to court documents. Another $281,336.32 in back wages were also ordered for Jeffs, Jessop and the church.
The U.S. Department of Labor alleged Paragon Contractors — the company Jessop ran at the time — used children from FLDS to work on the pecan farm without pay from 2008 to 2013, court documents from 2019 show.
Jeffs and Jessop allegedly failed to document records of the hours worked on the ranch, refused to provide names of employees and didn’t respond to subpoenas, the documents show.
“Consequently, there are no precise records reflecting the specific number of uncompensated hours worked by children for Defendants in violation of the child labor provisions of the (Fair Labor Standards Act),” the court documents say. “The children were part of the elusive, tight-knit, and very controlled FLDS polygamist enclave closely linked to Paragon.”
CNN has tried to contact Lyle Jeffs, FLDS, Paragon Contractors, and Jessop for comment, but was unable to reach them.
Lyle Jeffs is brother to Warren Jeffs, who was convicted in a 2011 sexual assault and aggravated assault case of two girls ages 12 and 15. Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years and is reported to lead the church from there.
In 2017, Lyle Jeffs was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison for his role in food stamp fraud and for escaping house arrest while awaiting trial.
FLDS is a religious sect that broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, over the practice of polygamy.
The sect has an estimated 10,000 members — most of whom live in Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. The group also has followers near Eldorado, Texas, and in South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada, British Columbia and Mexico.
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