CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. – Cambridge Mayor Carmen Bogle was among those disturbed by an "Inside Edition" hidden camera investigation alleging child labor violations at the Twelve Tribes community located within in the small Washington County village.
"Anything pertaining to children is disheartening but you know, behind closed doors, we don't know what goes on," Bogle said on Tuesday.
In the footage, which aired on national TV Friday, children as young as six are seen inside a soap factory at the Common Sense Farm that the small religious group operates and lives on. Another clip shows a young boy appearing to struggle with a wheelbarrow.
On Monday, the New York State Department of Labor launched an investigation.
"Now that the authorities are involved, I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of what's going on," Bogle said.
By Tuesday, the Department of Labor announced they'd found alleged violations involving 12 minors.
“Children are our most valuable asset and compliance with the Child Labor Law is not discretionary — it’s mandatory,” Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a written statement.
"I don't like to hear about those things in our small community, but if they're guilty of the alleged charge, they should be punished," Cambridge native Donald Cummings said Tuesday afternoon.
Two Twelve Tribes members we talked to on Tuesday declined on-camera interviews, but both said they believe the reports were inaccurate and taken out of context. One said the children seen inside the soap shop - which makes products for several national retailers - were simply visiting their parents.
“Likening those moments to oppressive industrial child labor that happens in third world countries not only takes them out of context but is also sadly inaccurate,” Twelve Tribes member Robert Racine said in a written statement. “This is just another example of why America’s media continues to lose credibility in the eyes of many.”
Until about five years ago, 12 Tribes used to operate a coffee shop on Main Street. Mayor Bogle and others Spectrum News has talked to both on and off-camera say they’ve always been friendly members of the community who have mostly kept to themselves.
"They are friendly, they are courteous; we've never had any issues with them," Bogle said.
"They've been good community members," Cummings said.
Along with the ongoing investigation in Washington County, the Department of Labor is now looking into eight other Twelve Tribes communities in the state of New York.