A construction company accused of using child workers and sending money to a polygamous church has settled a U.S. Department of Labor lawsuit, according to a court filing.
The settlement still needs approval of a federal judge in Salt Lake City. The terms would require Phaze Concrete, based in Hildale, Utah, to not employ children in ways that violate labor laws, to pay all employees at least the minimum wage, obey overtime rules and to repay two former teenage workers $72,269 each in back wages.
The Labor Department in August filed a lawsuit based on accounts from the two teens. They described working 13-hour days when most children are in school, including driving forklifts and excavating equipment and being sent away from family to work on sites in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
Phaze had denied the allegations and the legal filing entered Wednesday by the Labor Department said the company "asserts its full compliance since 2014."
"However," the filing continues, "in order to avoid the costs and disruptions associated with protracted litigation, Defendant has stipulated to entry of this consent judgment for settlement of all allegations...."
A lawyer for Phaze did not return messages on Thursday, nor did a spokesman for the Labor Department. It is unclear when U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups will consider the settlement.
Phaze and a related concrete company, Jack Daniels Construction, were the subject of a 2015 Salt Lake Tribune investigation. Former employees told of how the company allowed high school-age boys to operate heavy machinery — a violation of federal labor law — and diverted wages of both the teen and adult workers to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Phaze and Jack Daniels have poured concrete on public- and private-sector jobs from California to Louisiana. The same week as the Labor Department lawsuit was filed, Phaze was pouring concrete for a new residence hall at Utah State University.
The settlement displeased Wallace Jeffs, who worked for Phaze in 2008 and 2009 and spoke with Labor Department investigators as they prepared the lawsuit. Jeffs on Thursday said the Labor Department and federal government should have pursued criminal charges and put the Phaze executives and FLDS leaders in jail.
"These guys feel they are above the law," said Jeffs, who is a half-brother to imprisoned FLDS President Warren Jeffs. "This is just a slap on the wrist, and they will continue [the labor practices] until their criminal organization is shut down."
"I think the Labor Department is just chickening out and trying to settle it rather than prosecute," he added.
The deal with Phaze is similar to a settlement that Paragon Contractors, another company with FLDS ties, reached with the Labor Department in 2007.
When Paragon was accused of using child workers again during a 2012 pecan harvest near Hurricane, the Labor Department went back to the judge to argue Paragon had violated the settlement. The judge agreed that Paragon used children in ways that violated labor law and the previous agreement and is considering what sanctions to levy against the company.