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A federal judge in Salt Lake City says she wants to find out more before she decides whether to hold a pecan company in contempt for violating an order to stop using unpaid and underage laborers in polygamous towns on the Utah-Arizona border.
U.S. Labor Department attorneys argue Paragon Contractors failed to pay up to 1,400 workers including 175 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who participated in a 2012 pecan harvest at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch near Hurricane. They say those actions violated a 2007 court order.
Labor attorney Karen Bobela told U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell on Monday that previous attempts to stop the company haven't worked.
Attorney Rick Sutherland, representing Paragon, says there's no evidence the 2007 order was violated. He didn't address the back pay issue, and declined comment outside court.
Judge Campbell asked for briefs ahead of a January hearing.
Children who have since left the FLDS have submitted affidavits describing working at the ranch for years, sometimes in the cold for 13 hours a day without ever being paid on orders from FLDS leaders.
The Department of Labor is asking Campbell to impose sanctions, such as fines or more restrictions on how Paragon conducts business. The Labor Department has already fined the company, its executives, the FLDS Church and the man running its day-to-day operations, Lyle Jeffs, almost $2 million.
Paragon and two of its executives are contesting the fines in an administrative court, and the Labor Department cannot collect money from any of the parties until those appeals are adjudicated.
Associated Press reporter Brady McCombs contributed to this story