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Child labor case tied to polygamous group back in court

February 27, 2018

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo, a girl swings a chain as she stands with others in a playground in Colorado City, Ariz. The U.S. Department of Labor is headed to court to press allegations that a company tied to a polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border changed its name and defied an order to stop using child labor. A four-day evidence hearing begins Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in the case against Paragon Contractors, which is accused of changing its name to Par 2 and hiring underage workers for construction jobs across the West in 2015 and 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A company with ties to a polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border changed its name and defied an order to stop using child labor in construction jobs, U.S. Department of Labor attorneys alleged Monday.

The allegations, filed last September, are the latest wrinkle in a child labor case that dates to 2007. Federal prosecutors want the company found in contempt.

Testimony at Monday’s evidentiary hearing included allegations that the company that changed its name actually had the same headquarters and employed an executive who worked at both places. Workers for the new company often used the old company name when interviewed at job sites, according to the testimony of government inspectors and a contractor.

Jeff Matura, an attorney for the new company called Par 2 Contractors, argued that the two companies are separate legal entities with distinct owners. The original company, called Paragon Contractors, also disputes the finding.

“There’s nothing in the law that says you can’t have two family businesses where people help each other out,” Matura said after the hearing. “There’s nothing in the law that says you can’t have one business that eventually shuts down and another business comes that has employees who worked there ... To succeed they (the government) has to show that Par 2 is Paragon. It is one and the same. We think they are going hard time showing that.”

Paragon was previously ordered to pay $200,000 for back wages to children who picked pecans for long hours in the cold during a 2012 harvest.

In that 2016 order, the judge also ordered Paragon to report every work site location, as well as the identity and ages of all of their employees. Brian Jessop, the company’s owner, was also tasked with reporting any change of employment.

The company called the sanctions overreaching and unfair. It has appealed that finding to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, arguing the children were glad to get a break from schoolwork to gather nuts for the needy.

At the first day of the evidentiary hearing in Salt Lake City on the new allegations, labor attorneys sought to lay out evidence to show Par 2 was the successor to Paragon.

Dennis Porter, one of the owners of contracting company that hired the two companies for about eight jobs from 2013-2016, testified that Par 2 and Paragon had the same phone number, address and contact person.

Jeff Wilson, an inspector with the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said during his check of a Par 2 job site in August 2015 in Chandler, Arizona, that workers referred to their company as Paragon.

U.S. Department of Labor investigator Jacob Goehl testified that a Par 2 foreman at a work site on a Marriott hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, he visited in November 2016 was “cagey” and refused to say how much he was being paid. The investigator said he later found out in reviewing employee records that there were two 17-year-old workers who used power nail guns while working on a roof as framers.

On cross-examination, Goehl conceded employees told him none of the workers were underage.

Another Labor Department official said Par 2 of altered records that were subpoenaed to remove the name of Paragon executive Brian Jessop from Par 2 documents.

“They did all that to evade the court orders,” said Karen Bobela, Labor Department attorney. “You can’t evade contempt by changing your business name.”

During cross examination, Matura and fellow attorney Melissa England pressed witnesses about how exactly they came to the conclusion that the two companies were the same. He noted that the citation against Par 2 by the Arizona inspector never mentioned Paragon.

The evidentiary hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday.

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