Firm tied to polygamous group denies new child labor charges
Posted September 22
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah concrete company with ties to a polygamous group argued prosecutors are using old accusations against them in a child labor case that alleges they put underage laborers to work for long hours with little pay on job sites around the country.
Phaze Concrete acknowledged in court documents that three teenagers worked on a job site in 2014, but the company fixed that problem and hasn't violated the law since, according to court documents filed Wednesday. Phaze lawyers argue they shouldn't be slapped with sanctions without evidence of new problems.
U.S. Department of Labor lawyers, though, contend that investigators have since found more about the company's practice of drawing teenagers from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to work in hazardous conditions.
Phaze used child labor on jobs for companies like like Wal-Mart, Scheels All Sports and Hobby Lobby, prosecutors said. Their case included statements from two ex-FLDS teens who said they were put to work at ages 12 and 14.
Federal investigators first talked to the boys when they were pulled over while riding in the back of an open truck in 2014, according to court documents.
They conducted an investigation then and were told then the boys were relatives of employees and collected trash at the job site unbeknownst to the bosses. Labor officials issued a fine and closed the case.
Phaze said that was the end of the story and there haven't been any problems since.
Prosecutors argue it was the tip of the iceberg. The two teens later left the group and told investigators a fuller story: They worked 12 hours a day or more pouring concrete and operating dangerous equipment like saws and backhoes, according to court documents.
They got paid about $200 every two weeks, prosecutors said.
U.S. Department of Labor lawyers want a judge to order the company to pay back wages and stop using child labor.
The case marks the latest move by federal investigators to rein in the secretive group tied to abuses ranging from underage marriage to discrimination against people who were not members of the sect in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
Another affiliated company, Paragon Contractors, was accused of putting hundreds of children to work for long hours with little food on a pecan farm in 2012.
In Arizona, a jury found this spring that the twin polygamous towns on the Utah border violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic services such as police protection.
Several church leaders have also been charged in Utah with conducting a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme, though bishop Lyle Jeffs escaped home confinement in that case and remains on the run.