How do you feel about your tax dollars supporting a contractor with ties to imprisoned polygamist-rapist Warren Jeffs?
It’s a question worth asking following last week’s Henderson City Council meeting. A $475,000 park improvement project was awarded to JNJ Engineering Construction Inc. The contractor is headquartered in Hildale, Utah, about 160 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Hildale, along with the twin border town of Colorado City, Ariz., is home to a sect of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This was Jeffs’ empire for years, even when he became a fugitive in 2005 after being charged with arranging sex and marriages between men and underage brides, even when he was captured outside Las Vegas in 2006, even when he was prosecuted in Utah, Arizona and Texas. JNJ President Jacob N. Jessop is part of Hildale’s huge Jessop clan, which followed Jeffs and helped run a network of construction companies around the West that former FLDS members claim supported the church.
For many years, Jacob Jessop, his sizable family and many FLDS followers lived in the Las Vegas Valley while JNJ piled up local construction contracts, a great many of them for government entities. Since 2005, JNJ has completed 40 government projects in the state worth more than $41 million, according to documents JNJ provided to Henderson as part of its successful bid. Including the Henderson park contract, JNJ has three current local public-sector jobs worth $2 million.
You might think last week’s news sets up a column that beats up Henderson City Hall for failing to perform due diligence. The truth is, Henderson really had no choice in awarding the Reunion Trails Park improvement project to JNJ.
JNJ Engineering Construction was vetted by city staff as part of the bidding process, Henderson spokesman Bud Cranor told me last week. The company is licensed by the Nevada State Contractors Board, and its record reflects no disciplinary action. Cranor said the company is bonded and insured and is on a list of companies deemed qualified for such work. The law requires the city to accept the lowest responsible bid, and JNJ fit that criteria. JNJ had completed a water treatment plant project for Henderson in 2009, Cranor said, and the city was pleased with the company’s performance.
With the exception of a Clark County Wetlands Park project that brought complaints of shoddy work, destroyed vegetation and employees using phony names — reported by Channel 8’s I-Team — JNJ appears to have an excellent record, particularly with the Las Vegas Valley Water District.
If Henderson — or any government, for that matter — rejected a JNJ bid because of the lifestyle, history and religious affiliation of the company’s founders, it would expose city taxpayers to a potential lawsuit.
Jeffs is serving life in prison in Texas following his 2011 sexual assault conviction for raping girls at his church’s Yearning for Zion Ranch. No one else in Hildale or Colorado City has been convicted of criminal conduct, although Utah and Arizona prosecutors keep watchful eyes over the communities. Many people have left the sect in recent years and told of domineering church leadership and women being held against their will. They’ve also alleged that Jeffs still controls his followers from prison, and that JNJ wins so many construction jobs because its exceptionally low bids result from missionaries being forced to work for little or no pay to earn a wife.
I tried to reach Jacob Jessop through his company’s Hildale office, but a message was not returned.
I’m surprised Southern Nevada’s construction unions haven’t made a bigger deal about JNJ, considering their frequent pickets against nonunion labor. But I won’t be surprised if JNJ keeps picking up work on your dime.
Glenn Cook (email@example.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.
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