The U.S. Department of Labor says a Utah company found in the past to have unlawfully used children to harvest pecans is operating under a new name and has again been caught using children as laborers.
The Labor Department is asking that the company, Paragon Contractors Corp., and its owner, Brian Jessop, again be held in contempt of court. Both have deep ties to the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Jessop is listed as a city councilman in Hildale, Utah.
In 2007, Paragon was found to have violated child labor laws and ordered to not do so again. Last year, a federal judge in Salt Lake City found Paragon violated labor laws by employing children to harvest pecans at a ranch near Hurricane. U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell ordered Paragon to pay $200,000 in back wages and ordered it and Jessop for the next five years to report to a special master where it was supervising workers.
In a brief filed Monday, the Labor Department describes Paragon as reconstituting itself under the name Par 2. The company has won contracts to build frames on new motels and other commercial construction in Utah, Arizona and Colorado.
The brief says the Labor Department, through documents and interviews, determined Par 2’s workers include Jessop and a number of other supervisors and employees who previously worked for Paragon. Neither Jessop nor anyone at Paragon ever reported work for Par 2 to the special master, the Labor Department says.
Inspectors from the Labor Department in August 2016 found children working for Par 2 at a job site in Arizona. A minor operated what is described in court papers as “power-driven work-working machines” and another worked in “roofing operations.” While children are allowed to work construction jobs, they generally are not allowed to use power equipment or perform hazardous tasks.
Labor Department inspectors at the time were apparently unaware of the connection between Par 2 and Paragon. Par 2 paid $6,808 in fines and the case was closed.
The Labor Department now wants Par 2 held in contempt for violating the 2007 injunction issued to Paragon. It also wants Par 2 and Jessop to begin sharing its work and records with the special master and to pay for the cost of the latest Labor Department investigation.
Rick Sutherland, an attorney for Paragon, declined comment on Tuesday.
The Labor Department, in its brief Monday, also accused Par 2 of altering documents it was ordered to turn over by a subpoena. Investigators at the Labor Department compared documents submitted by Par 2 to copies maintained by general contractors who hired Par 2. The Labor Department said Par 2 removed Jessop’s names from some documents.
In the pecan picking case, the Labor Department has argued children and families were sent to the harvest by FLDS leaders, including then-bishop Lyle Jeffs.
On Tuesday, federal Judge Jill Parrish issued an order prohibiting the church and Jeffs from ever again employing workers in violation of labor laws. The Labor Department asked for the injunction. Such orders allow regulators to pursue stiffer penalties if the defendants violate the law again.