FT. WORTH, Tex. — American taxpayers have unwittingly helped finance a polygamist sect that is now the focus of a massive child abuse investigation in West Texas, with a business tied to the group receiving a nearly $1 million loan from the federal government and $1.2 million in military contracts.
The ability of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, to operate and grow is largely dependent on huge contributions from its members and revenue from the businesses they control, according to a former accountant for the church, and government officials in Utah and Arizona, where the sect is primarily based.
One of those businesses, NewEra Manufacturing in Las Vegas, has been awarded more than $1.2 million in federal government contracts, with most of the money coming in recent years from the Defense Department for wheel and brake components for military aircraft.
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A large portion of the awards were preferential no-bid or ”sole source” contracts because of the company’s classification as a small business, according to online databases that track federal government appropriations.
NewEra, previously known as Western Precision Inc. and located in Hildale, Utah, also received a $900,000 loan in 2005 from the federal Small Business Administration, the data show.
The president and chief executive of the company is John. C. Wayman, identified as an FLDS leader and a close associate to Warren Jeffs, the sect’s ”prophet,” who was convicted last year as an accomplice to rape for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin.
Wayman did not return phone calls seeking comment.
John Nielsen, who worked for the company when it was Western Precision in Hildale, said in a 2005 affidavit that he and other FLDS members were made to work for little or no wages, even as the company was bringing in lucrative government contracts and other work.
At the same time, $50,000 to $100,000 in company profits were going each month to FLDS ”and/or” Jeffs, Nielsen said in the affidavit, filed as part of a civil lawsuit.
He said he and other sect members thought their working for free or for extremely low wages would bring them redemption.
In Texas, authorities raided the FLDS’ sprawling YFZ Ranch near Eldorado on April 3, beginning an exhaustive search of its 1,691 acres. Authorities were acting on a tip from a 16-year-old girl inside the compound who said she had been beaten and raped by a 50-year-old man whom she was forced to marry.
Since then, a state district court judge has ordered the removal of 416 children, many of them young girls who have children or are pregnant after forced encounters with their ”spiritual” husbands in the sect’s towering white limestone temple, officials say.
While the men of the sect have held close rein on their ”plural wives” and children, seldom allowing them to associate with the outside world, the male leaders have fanned out into successful public business ventures.
They work as government defense contractors, dairy farmers, engineers, construction contractors, log-cabin homebuilders and suppliers of lanyards, the cords used on eyeglasses or name tags.
In addition, JNJ Engineering, a company owned and operated by FLDS leaders, has made millions of dollars in Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in September.
The company won $11.3 million in contract work from the Las Vegas Valley Water District; all but one of the project workers came from the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., where most of the sect’s 10,000 members live.