April 13, 2008 – As a child-abuse investigation continues at a polygamous compound in Texas, NBC News has learned who helped fund the controversial sect. It was the U.S. Department of Defense.
Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by NBC News show that the Pentagon awarded contracts of at least $1.5 million to two Utah-based companies owned and operated by senior officials of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS. The contracts, issued from 1998 to 2006, were for aircraft parts and other military equipment.
The Pentagon contracts were awarded to Utah Tool & Die and Western Precision, Inc., which operated in Utah. The president of Western Precision was Wendell Nielsen, described in multiple media accounts as a senior official in the FLDS religious sect, whose West Texas compound was raided by police earlier this month as part of a wide-ranging child-abuse investigation. Neilsen disappeared with church leader Warren Jeffs after Jeffs was put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list in 2003. Jeffs, the sect’s “prophet,” was convicted last year on two counts of rape as an accomplice.
The records show that Western Precision continued to receive government contracts even after the well-publicized manhunt. And when Jeffs was captured in 2006, he was riding in an SUV registered to John C. Wayman, another Western Precision executive.
So how could federal funds have ended up aiding the FLDS church? According to an affidavit filed by Wendell Nielsen’s son in a church-related court case, Western Precision gave the church up to $100,000 a month, a testament to the close ties between the manufacturing firm and the church itself.
For years before the Pentagon issued the contracts, newspapers were reporting sensational allegations about the Mormon fundamentalist church. The Pentagon continued issuing contracts to the firms as the media reports continued. A 1991 article in the Salt Lake Tribune, for example, reported that the church engaged in polygamy, “commingled church and municipal money” and evicted dissidents who disagreed with the church. The 1991 article quotes “sect member Wendell Nielsen” — the president and CEO of Western Precision — describing church leaders as “direct agents of God.”
A Defense Department spokesman says the Pentagon didn’t do anything wrong. He tells NBC News that the Defense Department does “not consider religious affiliation” when awarding contracts and relies on cost and performance in selecting contractors.
And the Defense Department was apparently pleased with Western Precision’s work. In 2002, it honored the company with its “Innovative Business Performer of the Year” award.
Nielsen and Wayman and other church elders who worked at Western Precision, now known as the Las Vegas-based NewEra Manufacturing, could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this month a state judge ordered the removal of 416 children from the FLDS compound in Texas, after a 16-year-old girl tipped off police that she had allegedly been raped by an FLDS man she had been forced to marry.