|Texas rep calls for probe of FLDS firm receiving defense contracts|
BY TRISH CHOATE, Standard-Times Washington Bureau|
San Angelo Standard-Times
WASHINGTON - San Angelo's congressman said he favors a congressional probe into a company with ties to the Schleicher County polygamist sect raided last month, but he's not rushing to judgment about the defense contractor based in Nevada.
U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, a member of the committee that might investigate, said the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ran legitimate businesses. NewEra Manufacturing of Las Vegas reportedly was awarded more than $1 million in defense contracts.
"We still live in a country where you're innocent until proven guilty," Conaway said.
A NewEra representative said allegations about wages at the company are "just absolutely nonsense."
Conaway's 11th Congressional District includes Schleicher County, site of the sect's YFZ Ranch, raided last month on suspicions of widespread child abuse and forced "marriages." The FLDS practices a form of plural marriage with unions not intended to be recognized by the law, and split decades ago from the mainstream Mormon Church.
A weeklong raid began April 3 at the ranch near Eldorado and resulted in 463 sect children being taken into state custody. The recent birth of a baby boy brings the total to 464.
Allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the compound surfaced after telephone calls to a San Angelo women's shelter from someone saying she was 16, the mother of an 8-month-old and an abuse victim at the hands of her 50-year-old spiritual "husband" at the compound.
Authorities now suspect the phone calls were a hoax but don't expect that would weaken their case.
A Texas congresswoman requested the House Armed Services Committee conduct an investigative hearing into Department of Defense contracts awarded to NewEra Manufacturing of Las Vegas.
The company was awarded $1.2 million in no-bid defense contracts, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger said in a recent letter to committee leaders.
The Fort Worth Republican is concerned that tax dollars might have funded illegal activities and about reports that the company made sect members labor for little or no pay.
"While religious affiliation should certainly not be a determining factor, DOD has a responsibility to closely scrutinize any company under consideration before contracts are awarded," Granger said.
The company has won bids from the government over a series of years.
"They chose us because we make a quality part on time," Steve Barlow, human resources manager, said Friday.
Granger wants to know whether the DOD scrutinized NewEra Manufacturing, as well as the agency's process for checking out all prospective contractors.
Another West Texas lawmaker on the Armed Services Committee said the key is what the Pentagon finds out about NewEra contracts.
The committee had not scheduled the hearing Granger requested as of Friday, Lara Battles, committee press secretary, said.
Granger also noted that NewEra's president is an associate of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned FLDS prophet.
Jeffs was convicted in September as an accomplice to rape for arranging marriages between adult men in his sect and unwilling underage girls.
Other business ventures linked to FLDS include construction companies in the West, according to the Scripps Howard News Service. The companies have been awarded lucrative public-works contracts after underbidding competitors.
The FLDS has members concentrated in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., as well as in Bountiful, British Columbia.
Originally published Saturday, May 3, 2008
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