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Government takes action against FLDS company over child labor violations

Published April 22, 2013 3:33 pm

Investigation • Company allegedly used hundreds of kids as farm workers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A conflict appears to be brewing between the U.S. Department of Labor and a southern Utah company accused of using hundreds of FLDS children as farm workers.

In documents filed Monday, the Department of Labor argues that Paragon Contractors Corp. has not turned over vital information about a child labor investigation. A news release adds that Brian Jessop and Dale Barlow also have withheld information, while Keith Dutson has failed to appear for subpoenaed testimony. The news release does not state what role the men occupied at Paragon.

The documents ask that the company and three men be compelled to respond to court-ordered subpoenas.

The investigation began after Hildale-based Paragon allegedly used children to harvest pecans in December. The harvest took place at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch in Hurricane and was captured in a CNN report. The children reportedly are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Labor Department spokesperson Diana Petterson wrote Monday in an email that investigators believe as many as 1,400 school-age children and their parents participated in the harvest. Investigators also believe some of the work happened during school hours, which would be a violation of child labor laws. As a result, the Department of Labor has asked for the name, age and contact information for everyone who participated in the harvest.

According to Petterson, Paragon and the three men named in the documents have refused to provide that information.

Additional documents released Monday by the Department of Labor shed further light on what happened during the harvest. The documents include a transcribed interview between Barlow and officials. During the interview, Barlow explains that between 2008 and 2010 as many as 300 school-age FLDS children participated in annual pecan harvests. The children were home schooled, Barlow said, and their families scheduled breaks for the harvests.

In 2011, the number of children increased to 600, Barlow told investigators. During the harvests, children and families were allowed to keep a percentage of the nuts they collected, Barlow explained.

Barlow goes on to say that he was present when CNN showed up to video record the harvest in 2012. He estimated that there were 1,400 people at the ranch that year, but added that he wasn't sure of that number.

Barlow goes on to say that the people in the CNN footage are his friends, but that he doesn't know all of their names. If the court grants the Department of Labor's request and the company and the three men still fail to respond, they could be held in contempt of court, Petterson said. Any potential penalty will ultimately be up to the judge, and possible outcomes include fines or incarceration.

Utah labor law exempts agricultural work from age limitations, but the government has previously stated that violations of the Fair Labor and Standards Act may still have occurred on the pecan farm.

The Department of Labor has already settled its case with the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch, where the child labor abuses reportedly occurred.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jimmycdii