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Court hears Utah child-labor case is bound to polygamous group

DENVER – A Utah contractor with ties to a polygamous group is set to appear in court Monday to challenge a judge, to find that they have almost 200 children to work picking pecans for long hours in the cold, without paying for it.

Paragon Contractors, lawyers argue the children were volunteering with their families to pick up fallen nuts for the poor and the children looked forward to the break from home-schooling. They appear for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Paragon is the contesting of a decision of the U. S. District Judge Tena Campbell, who in the company forced kids as young as 6 to work in the cold during a 2012 pecan harvest in southern Utah, sometimes with little food and few bathroom breaks.

She ordered Paragon to pay $200,000 in back wages and to submit to independent oversight. The company has called the sanctions overreaching and unfair.

U.S. Department of Labor lawyers also say in court documents that the company has changed its name, and the children back to work on the construction jobs in 2015 and 2016.

The plaintiffs claim the company has deep ties to the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs, and was under pressure to make money for its leaders if the use of 1,400 unpaid workers, including 175 children.

Paragon worked closely with the leaders of the secret Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints along the Utah-Arizona border to funnel children to the harvest, the U.S. Department of Labor attorney Karen Bobela said.

Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas after being convicted for sexual assault of girls he considered brides. Group leaders do not have a spokesperson or contact where they can be reached.

The case was one of several aimed at curbing the group is subject to abuse, ranging from child marriage to discrimination against non-members. Labor lawyers also settled a underage case against another company linked to the group.

An Arizona jury, meanwhile, found that the two towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, violated the constitutional rights of non-believers by denying them basic services, such as police protection.

Federal prosecutors in Utah also reached plea deals, with several members accused in a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme.

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Flowers reported from Denver; Whitehurst Salt Lake City.

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