July 26th, 2011
03:07 PM ET

Warren Jeffs seeks to control polygamist sect from jail

Editor’s Note: CNN’s Gary Tuchman explores the latest developments in the saga of polygamist Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a special report on tonight’s “AC 360” and for CNN Presents, airing Sunday, July 31, at 10 p.m. ET.

By David Fitzpatrick, CNN

El Dorado, Texas (CNN) - Fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs has been held in a tiny jail in this west Texas town for roughly three years. According to his jailers, he has spent his time doing one thing above all else: talking on the phone..

Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran told CNN that in one month, Jeffs has spent roughly $3,000 on phone cards.

And while Jeffs was recently held in another Texas jail roughly 50 miles away, he spent close to $10,000 in phone cards in three months.

Reagan County Sheriff James Garner, who oversees that jail, told CNN that no inmate there has ever spent that much money on phone cards.

Authorities say Jeffs has received money from loyal followers and that he uses much of it to buy phone time to deliver lengthy sermons to acolytes in Texas, Utah and Arizona.

Some Jeffs experts say the calls are proof that he’s running his church from behind bars.

And officially, Jeffs still leads the breakaway sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), which firmly believes in polygamy.

Leaders of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have repeatedly disavowed Jeffs and say his group of roughly 10,000 followers in no way represents their religion.

The official LDS church banned polygamy more than a century ago.

Jury selection for Jeff’s sexual assault trial began in Texas on Monday. He is charged with two counts of sexual assault on a child and one count of bigamy.

Jeffs has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The Texas accusations arise mainly from a raid conducted by the Texas Rangers on an FLDS ranch a few miles from El Dorado. Authorities took hundreds of children away from the ranch for over two months before allowing them to return.

Jeffs’ lawyer, Jeff Kearney, declined to answer any of CNN’s questions about his client.

Jeffs was tried in St. George, Utah, after his arrest in 2006.

He was found guilty on two charges of being an accomplice to rape, but the conviction was overturned by an appellate court on a technicality. Jury instructions were found to have been faulty.

Utah prosecutors elected not to re-try the case but Jeffs was arrested by Texas authorities.

In all, he has been in four different jails - in Nevada, Utah and Texas - for more than five years.

Now, even some once-trusted aides of Warren Jeffs say he has betrayed his church’s principles by openly boasting of relations with girls as young as 12 or 13.

“He’s said he is a very wicked man and he’s confessed to doing some very terrible things, including molesting his daughter and sister and others,” said Willie E. Jessop, a former Jeffs associate, referring to Jeffs diaries that were admitted as evidence in his Utah trial. “I think his own words describe himself more than I would care to characterize it.”

In 2008, when the Texas Rangers raided the FLDS ranch, called the Yearning for Zion Ranch, Jessop was close to Jeffs. Jessop even opened the gates of the ranch to journalists, giving them tours to show that nothing “bad” was happening there, as he put it.

But after seeing Jeffs' diaries, Jessop tells CNN's Gary Tuchman that “his conduct will never be sanctioned by me.” Jessop showed CNN two still photographs of Jeffs kissing very young girls.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in my church that will ever sanction what he has done,” Jessop says. “It’s just a matter of time until they come to terms and figure out how to cope with what he has done.”

But in Colorado City, Arizona, an FLDS stronghold, support for Jeffs still seems strong. A few residents told CNN they had become fed up with Jeffs, but many others voiced full-throated support.

Especially striking were remarks made by an 18-year-old woman who refused to give her name but who told CNN that Jeffs meant “everything” to her.

She said she wasn’t married yet but hoped to be in the near future. And when asked if she wanted to have so-called sister wives - the term used to describe women in polygamous marriages - she said yes.

“How many sister wives would be perfect?” CNN’s Tuchman asked.

“As many as I get,” she replied.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

soundoff (359 Responses)
  1. Barry

    Don’t they have solitary confinement?

    Someone has to protect these naive people from such a person.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  2. Thinker

    Why don't they just let him rot in jail where he belongs? Why is he allowed to spread his poison through the phone lines?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  3. Satan

    Providing all involved are consenting adults... what's the problem with polygamy? Because one group of humans don't structure their family unit the same as the group of humans you affiliate with, that's a problem?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  4. Amydontplay“THATGAME“

    Certainly, I feel religion is an issue of freedom in America that should not be interfered with by our Government, insomuch as children (under legal age as defined by each State) are not being molested. One should wonder how it is ok for two 12 year olds to have a child and be married via parental approval yet this Jeffs is being prosecuted by tax payer dollars for kissing two 16 year olds and taking a wife of a 17 year old. We should not intrude on this practice of taking on several wives. If these woman approve of their life and no one is hurt by their lives, who is our Government to arrest or bother any of them? We should all be defending these people because when does our Government intrusions end? Just somethinb to think about and no, im not a Mormon.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Ted

      It is not okay for two 12 year old to be married though with states having the right to set those laws we have some odd laws. As for what girls say they want I'd bet there are not any that were not raised that way that would want that. If you notice there are Islamic kids willing to strap a bomb on and go kill innocent people. Parents can sell some complete crap to kids.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Mark

      This man is a cult leader who brain washes these people in order to please himself. He is a child molester who uses religion in order to make it seem right to molest young people.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  5. Been There

    Once again, the media doesn't have it quite right. The Mormons haven't "banned" polygamy. They've postponed it. They still perform polygamous marriages in their temples, marrying living and deceased Mormons into polygamous marriages that take effect in the next life.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Gingerpeach

      uh NO!!!

      July 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • j2d2

      So I take it you have been to the "afterlife" and know exactly how everything works there? How about not commenting on things you or anybody else in this mortal world, despite their religious beliefs, know absolutely nothing about.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • UtahGK

      @Gingerpeach – Ummm... yes. The revelation given to President Woodruff in 1890 was not canonized in D&C. Therefore, it is not a part of the sacred record which acts as our guiding lights. If the church truly wished the idea gone forever, the manifesto would have been added to D&C and Section 132 removed.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  6. Andrew

    FLDS have no affiliation with Mormons. These wackos should call themselves Polygamites and stop using the Mormon or LDS name. Shameful.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Gingerpeach

      thank You, You are right. And yes I belong to the LDS church. NOT the FLDS church there is a BIG difference!

      July 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • UtahGK

      You have no idea what you are talking about. If anything, the FLDS have more claim to the term "Mormon" than the church in Salt Lake City. Moreover, the mainstream church still retains Doctrine & Covenants section 132 which is the guiding light on the principle of celestial marriage. Sounds like you don't very much about the church — or its history.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Anne

    Stop the free advertising for this sick person and his sick sect, this story was already told several times, you are going over and over on the same crimes, it is schocking, enough.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  8. sparky

    Where's all the christians ripping on the muslims?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Barry

      I'm a Christian, and I love my muslim brothers and sisters. Jesus wouldn't have it any other way.

      I love my atheist and agnostic neighbors too.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  9. cre8lite

    King Julian, I think you should do some home work on this guy. Warren Jeffs doesn't care how old the girls are – if they are breathing, it's time to marry them off to much older men or keep them for himself. 50 yrs old men raping 12 yr old girls is wrong in any religion.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  10. sanjosemike

    Why is this happening? Who is permitting it?

    Do jails have rules or do they not?

    Simple, reasonable questions.


    July 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • svann

      I think the rules for those awaiting trial are different than the rules in jail for those that have already been convicted.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  11. J. F. Tutko

    I used to work for the jail commissary in Shelby County, Tennessee and inmates there were limited to only receiving $35 per week deposited into their commissary account with which they purchased things like phone cards. Apparently "Everything's bigger in Texas" also applies to how much inmates are allowed to spend on Commissary items and other privileges.
    Note To Self: If you're gonna do time – do it in Texas, not Tennessee!

    July 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • svann

      Consider that he hasnt been found guilty of anything yet.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  12. David

    I wonder how he would feel if one of his wives wanted multiple husbands. Hypocrite.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • David

      Oh wait, that would be an o r g y.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Frogist

      @David: He would probably justify his hypocrisy by saying it's against his religion.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  13. pam

    The only reason the lds church does not openly practice poligamy anymore was so that they could become the state of utah in the 1800s. That was the deal that was made with the federal goverment to allow state hood.You better belive that poligamy is still practiced by the mormons and the lds church.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Neil

      100% correct. It's the same thing with black members of the church. People of color could not be members of the church until 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Faced with serious liability, the Elders of the Church had another "revelation" that the ban should be lifted. Man, talk about a coincidence.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • j2d2

      Ummmm.... I have been a Mormon all my life (with a vast respect for all religions) and not a single Mormon that I know practices polygamy.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Gingerpeach

      No Mam it is not.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Gingerpeach

      How is it that you people think you know everything about the LDS when you really know NOTHING??

      July 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • pam

      All you have to do is to go to the utah state fair to prove my point.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  14. Mona

    Aside from the obvious religious debate this article ignites, I think the bigger issue is HOW THIS GUY GETS SO MUCH PHONE TIME IN JAIL. If he can use $3K a month in phone cards, he is on the phone quite a bit. Special privliges?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • David

      Completely agree. Give him 15 minutes a week outside his lawyer.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • UnlimitedMinutes

      He's getting <2.5 hrs talktime per day (based on $0.60/min numbers in video). Not quite enough to run a church well I would think.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • christina


      I thought people in jail had to do jobs not just sit around and talk on the phone. What the heck?!?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  15. jschau

    The smart middle class criminals always claim religion.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  16. Zeke2112

    LOL, religion. Y'all still think it's good for humanity?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Jim

      Authenitic faith, yes. Jeff's brand, no.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Mark in Seattle

      Spirituality and personal relationship with whatever higher power is actually pretty good for humanity. But organized religions (especially derivations of the ones that crawled out of the bitter middle eastern desert) is the greatest blight the species has ever endured.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Gingerpeach

      There is true, good religion and there is what Jeffs calls religion. What Jeffs teachs is not regilion it's of Satan. He is a very wicked man.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Barry

      People will always find a way to exploit and ruin everything.

      Don’t reject decent, god-fearing people, just because of the actions of a few.

      There are some quacks in medical fields, but I don’t believe we should abandon medical care, because of these individuals.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Gingerpeach: I'm not sure what you said makes sense. Isn't Satan of religion too?

      July 27, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  17. Gary

    This should be encouraging to liberals in the event that their elected officials end up in jail they can still negotiate with their criminal contacts behind bars.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Davethecanuck

      People like you are making your country a laughingstock... so petty.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Kevin

      It doesn't appear that the Mormons are in the liberal parties. They are all Republicans.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Walt

      Kevin, you obviously have not heard of Harry Reid.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  18. total non sense

    He is guilty of beleiving in religion. This should be enough for the death penalty

    July 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • smrtaz

      Yeah, they should kill the leaders of religions. That has worked so well in the past to get rid of religions. Oh wait....

      July 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Barry

      Why don't you have the courage to post your real , full name, along with such an absurd statement, as the one you made?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  19. king julian

    if gay marriage is ok and it's ok to adopt children in gay and lesbian families. i don't see what's wrong in polygamy.
    as long as there is no abuse to children and women, polygamy should be permitted.
    after all it's consensual between all parties involved.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Veritas

      The foundation of the FLDS is polygamous s3xual relations with minors.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Absolutely! Polygamy should be legal if gay and lesbian marriages [biologically incorrect] are legal.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • nicholas lauren

      King julian, are you an advocate of pedophilia. Your comments may lead people to believe your ok with old men raping 12 and 13 girls. What gay marriage and pedophiles, arranging marriages with their brothers and friends little girls have to do with one another is beyond logic. Obviously, your a member, of this cult. Better repent or that white salamander might come after you.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Frogist

      @kingjulian: Well that's true. As long as all parties are consenting adults, I don't really see what the issue is. People already engage in similar relationships with mulitple faithful partners, why not polygamy?
      @nicholas lauren: I believe kingjulian addressed your concerns in his post. He is obviously not advocating pedophilia.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  20. smrtaz

    When a polygamist buys personalized towels, do they buy "His" and "Hers" or "His" and "Theirs"?

    July 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • PW

      They actually but a His & Hers pack...but then break open all the others and swap out the His for Hers. You could probably prove the theory if you staked out a WalMart in Texas.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.