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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. Mr. T. Bag

    Wow, there are lots of lunatics out there....
    No wonder we're in such a mess.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  2. sfras

    I take offence to the lady who said on the show, " that this is not a third world country". What is she saying polygamy from a fundamentalist group only happen in a third world country. Miss, I live in a third world country and that madness sure has hell is not being practised here.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  3. davetharave

    Why is he allowed to direct these ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES from jail ? That's just ridiculous. I thought you get one phone call when you're arrested.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Normon

      I was wondering the same thing. How's he get so much time on the phone?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  4. Maxi

    1. Disgusting human being. He should be taken to Guantanamo

    2. I don't care for religion in general, but I hate how this perverts give Mormons (LDS not FLDS) a bad name. The LDS Church promotes good things, and I know from talking to a lot of them, that the multiple wives garbage has nothing to do with them

    3. To you the religious ignoramuses. Get educated on the subject of LDS, FLDS etc.. before accusing anyone of racism or putting other people's faith down, and the congratulating yourself for thinking you are doing God's work. Hypocrites!

    July 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • UtahGK

      Maxi, you obviously know nothing about the history of the LDS church. The FLDS is a branch that split from the church around 1890 when the president of the church, Lorenzo Snow, sent families practicing the principle to Southern Utah, Mexico and Canada. You really should know that the FLDS are just as good as so-called LDS followers... the FLDS have simply been lorded over by a man who is no more a prophet of God than I am. Warren Jeffs needs to go — but the faith needs to stay.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Normon

      @Maxi,
      "2. I don't care for religion in general, but I hate how this perverts give Mormons (LDS not FLDS) a bad name. The LDS Church promotes good things, and I know from talking to a lot of them, that the multiple wives garbage has nothing to do with them"
      Umm... If it weren't for the LDS, the FLDS wouldn't exist and wouldn't have even started with the idea of polygamy. Where do you think they got the idea? Joseph Smith. Not that the LDS, practices or condones it any more, I'm just saying that's were it came from.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Maxi

      I don't know what the mormons did in the 1800, but I know what they are like today. The U.S used have slavery, but that doesn't my country any less of a free land, because we got rid of that. You know what I mean?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  5. Homey HNL

    Can we get real with the FLDS thing? I'm not a member. Heck, I can't handle the ex-wives I had one at a time! Anywho, if one does the research, we still have at least one state that condones 13 year old marriages. "18, 14 for males and 13 for females, in cases of "special cause" with parental consent and court permission." As far as being brainwashed in a particular lifestyle, we all are. Look around you! Do I think the world should be run according to my beliefs, sure! Will I try to "FORCE" my beliefs on you? Hell no. I gave 20 years of my life to the military that supports individual freedom. Quit beating up on groups of people that believe different than you. Geebus!

    July 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  6. AvdBerg

    For a better understanding of the history of the Mormon Church we invite you to read the articles ‘Mormon Church ~ Cult and Spiritual Harlot’ and ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’ listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles explain how this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9. The Bible is true in all things and is the discerner of every thought and the intent of the heart (Hebrews 5:12).

    July 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Observer

      Does your website discuss people who commit abominations like eating seafood and telling blatant lies and then be such incredible hypocrites that they pick on other people for their abominations?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • The Truth

      I bet he is using it for phone s e x ....that sicko...mormons are morons!!

      July 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Next time I run into a dragon, I'll be sure to avoid the stars that it flings at me, Okay.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • justme

      how about the "mormon murders"?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Maxi

      First, I think you are quite silly arguing about a true religion... but hey I respect other people believing in God. The part I find idiotic is you trying to tell people to learn about the mormon church from some stupid website. This is how rumors about religions, politics etc gets started. Some idiot like you starts spreading misinformation. If you are going to talk crap about a Church at least talk crap about factual information

      July 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Normon

      @Maxi,
      I like that "True crap or No crap!"

      July 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  7. Mark

    This man is the definition of a cult leader/brain washer. That 18 year old girls comment that he is everything to her just shows that he is brain washing these people just like charles mason. All he is doing is using religion to make it seem ok to molest young girls and everything he is doing is to benifit himself. People like this make me sick because they take advantage of young people to make them think what they are doing is ok. Keep this piece of trash in jail and take away the phone

    July 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  8. diggit

    Well I'm sure he's been watching what's been going on in New York with all the gay marriages all excited hoping he and his 13 year old wife are next.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • NRC

      I know you are half kidding. But honestly you may be right. On one hand people say stay out of other peoples bedroom and except gay marriage and then on the other they say it is wrong to have multiple wives, or marry 13 year olds. I am just not sure if we are ever going to be able to define right and wrong in years to come. Kind of scary

      July 26, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Frogist

      @NRC: It's simple. A 13 yr old girl cannot give consent. Therefore no marriage to 13 yr olds. A gay person and their partner can and do and should be able to get married. Just because the old stereotype of one kind of relationship is going by the wayside, does not mean humanity has lost its way of understanding right and wrong. In fact, it is just the opposite.
      @diggit: Also your equating pedohilia with gay marriage is disgusting.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  9. T Strauss

    I wish all of the angry, atheist God-basheds here would go someplace unpleasant and bring fundamentalist Christians and Muslims with them. Then maybe the rest of us could enjoy our tolerant society in peace and quiet.

    Jeffs' main charges are child molestation and abuse, not bigamy. The minute you touch a kid, it isn't consensual and you deserve the chair IMO.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Normon

      "Then maybe the rest of us could enjoy our tolerant society in peace and quiet."

      That would be you and who else?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Kim

      I'm guessing you would like gays and other races shipped off as well? I'm guessing you don't know what real tolerance is.
      You have a right to go to Church and live your life based on a book, I have the right to laugh at you giving your life to a fairy tale fable.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • T Strauss

      Kim, do you get the concept of tolerance? Tolerance/= laughing in people's faces because they're different.

      Fwiw, I don't care if gay people wed. I think it is morally wrong, but that's none of my business. Between them and God, right?

      Please don't lump all Christians in with the Pat Robertson/ Sarah Palin fundy crew. You're more like them than I am.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Kim

      Yes, I understand the definition of tolerance. I figured since you were able to take it upon your self to lump all atheists into one category, than I clearly had the option of lumping you into the crazy Christian category. Do these things not work both directions?

      July 27, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  10. Wyatt

    Stop using "mormon" to describe this cult. They are FLDS. Please refer to them as such. Warren Jeffs actions and beliefs are not held by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons. Bigotry be damned.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Kevin

      I think we all get embarrassed by folks associated with us even in a distant way,, but Jeffs is the Mormon leader Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other Christians, Muslims or Jews for instance get no forgiveness for the fundamentalist factions of their religions. He's following the Book of Mormon.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Raj

      @Kevin man he ain't following no mormon book. He's just a damn pervert. Have you even read the mormon bible? Probably not, otherwise you wouldn't make such idiotic comments.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  11. Barry

    Mark in Seattle,

    Believe it or not, I agree with you, and so did Jesus. Jesus hated religion, and religion hated him and killed him.

    Jesus was concerned about relationships, about being responsible and treating others well.

    And Jesus said: Do to others as you would have others do to you.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  12. co

    I find it rather interesting that the left will do anything to get all the qu(ee)rs married so what is wrong with multiple marriages between consenting adults.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • D

      So its just the left that isn't approving of multiple marriages? Gotcha.

      As for me, I pretty left and I could not care less how many wives you have...just don't molest children. That ok?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Nothing in principle, as long as we really are talking consenting adults. There are legalities regarding marital rights that would need to be carefully worked out very carefully. Issues do get seriously intertwined and you have to think ahead. But in principle, having any truly consensual relationship that adults freely choose should be a choice left to the people involved and only them.

      In fairness, I should note that I consider myself more libertarian than liberal. So I don't consider myself a voice of the "left", but do consider myself a social liberal.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Normon

      Not damn thing.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • voice o reason

      because they are neither adult nor consenting.
      are you actually comparing gay marriage between two consenting adults to girls being married off @ 13 to 50 year old men?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Mommy

      Growing up I was molested, I had a normal family normal parents, abuse happens everywhere among everyone, I dont think it is right and they should be charged with what they did if they do something wrong, but I dont think that it is our right to tell someone that they can not have many wifes if all of them are of age and agree to it. If that is what works for them then they should be able to do it, but if abuse or neglect to the wives or children starts then it should be stopped, it shouldn't be looked at as general whole it should be case by case.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  13. fernace

    I have no problem with whatever type of living arrangement consenting adults chose! Even if you feel like calling it a "religion"! The problem is using the religion as a subterfuge for r.a.p.i.ng girls! Not only is it against the law, but kids who are molested are severely traumatized, ask any aduls survivor of a priest attack! Jeffs should never get out of prison, he'll just start up where he left off! Also, how does he get the freedom to run his ranch on the phone,from jail! I don't recall that being a "jail perk"!!

    July 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  14. Apotropoxy

    Jeffs' followers believe that he is "the One strong and mighty' to whom god directly speaks. To doubt Jeffs' word is to doubt god's word, too. This trial only reinforces the LDSers (and FLDSers) deeply ingrained sense of worldly persecutions by the evil Gentiles... (that's us).
    America's tradition of religious toleration has often delivered shocking misery.

    Faith means not wanting to know what is true. — Friedrich Nietzsche

    All rise for the Pledge of Allegiance.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  15. Rob

    Sick, twisted, disgusting individual leader of a pseudo religion...
    to let this perverted, pedophile run his network of abusers from jail is totally disturbing.
    Why can't anyone stop this dirty criminal from continuing his abuses???

    July 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  16. aaron

    the Texas Rangers arrested Jeffs. I heard it was a close game, with the clean-up hitter hitting a walk-off homer.

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

      WHAT!!??

      July 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Kevin

      Randall, the Texas Rangers can refer to both the MLB baseball team or the Texas Rangers enforcement officers of the Texas Department of Public Safety. I got it Aaron.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Randall

      Gotcha. That flew over my head cause I don't watch baseball.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  17. Daniel

    God is infallible correct? If the God of the LDS once said that polygamy was right and true then how can this change?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  18. CNN Wire

    Just thinking of having like all of seven beautiful wives, makes me kinda light up, you know the ability to pop whichever, whenever, you know....ha ha! Can someone, anyone send me warren'd number? Need some advice as to how I might get going.

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

      You must have never been married. LOL. No matter how beautiful... one "wife" is way more than enough. I'd rather have seven beautiful girlfriends.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Normon

      Don't think you understand, Jeffs doesn't want you, he wants more beautiful women, apparently beautiful girls actually. How do you think he keeps his wives...

      July 26, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  19. Daniel

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

    Apparently their God or his prophet were no infallible. Therefore their religion is invalid. Right or wrong, the fundamentalist mormons are the only true LDS and the people now known as the LDS are just phony sellouts who claim to be their ancestors religion.

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

      Hey, who says a religion's god has to be infallible, just the Abrahamic religions. And look where that got you, with your 6000 year old Earth.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Colette

      How is that any different from any other religion? It isn't. Religion itself is a flawed concept for the weak minded.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  20. kels

    Men molest women and children in all religions. Sick. Mormons are extremely racist. Only whites hold power positions in their church.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • co

      They know what happens when you let in the rif raf.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • kip

      mmmmmm........wrong!

      July 26, 2011 at 5:34 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.