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. umyeah

    So tell me, what does gay marriage/adoption have to do with this? Nothing. Stay on the issue. The man is a pedophile preying on children period.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  2. David Johnson

    If the polygamists swear off underage girls, I have no problem with it.

    I really can't understand why a man would want more than 1 wife. Mine is way too much at times. LOL (in case she reads this).


    July 26, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Frogist

      @David Johnson: Too much for you? Never! I find that hard to believe. Of course, you can always bring in another husband. That oughta even things out! 😉

      July 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  3. robert

    God bless this earth it needs all the help it can get

    July 26, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  4. robert

    Religion should unite and support the human race and breed tolerance

    July 26, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  5. robert

    Religion should never result in hurt

    July 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  6. robert

    Religion should make people better people

    July 26, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  7. Beatrice

    Mitt has huge golden tablets in his magic underwear. I should know.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Beatrice

      A filthy fake.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  8. Me

    Again, child molester. Why are we even having a conversation about it? Any time anything that has to do with molesting or purposely abusing children comes up, we as a society should just go ahead and execute the sick weirdo. One less weirdo, population control. I dont want to have to pay for some sick weirdo to get three hot meals and a shower, and cable tv, and a library, and a warm bed.. thats my tax dollars! I would rather them just be exused from living any further. End of story.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  9. Beatrice

    Mind control is what villains seek to do. Always.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  10. The Truth

    Religion is for schmucks.....

    July 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  11. pam

    A vote for a republican is a vote for polgamy.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Beatrice

      A vote for a Democrat is a vote for moral chaos.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • uhhhh

      That's why independents rule!!!!!!

      July 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Satan

      I am a BIG SUPPORTER of brother Jeff......who doesnt like a little fresh wet slant eye sometimes?

      July 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Pam No, the Republicans will likely be among the last to oppose legalizing it. It's different and involves s-ex. They'll never go for it until it's been the norm for a century or so, at which point they or their ideological descendants will defend it vehemently as God's way.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Amy

      That's untrue and ignorant

      July 27, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  12. Debasis

    Mormon ==> very close to Moron
    Look at another example in GOP candidates.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  13. Me

    Child Molester. Needs to rot in hell. End of story. Sick pervert.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  14. ralk

    What a punk.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  15. poolchick

    I can't believe this POS is allowed to have any contact with the outside world. He should be denied all except for speaking to his lawyer. Afterall, it is prison and he deserves to be in there for the rest of his pathetic life. Hope somebody in there does the world a favour and does him in. All those who still follow him are just brainwashed into thinking he is doing good and a religious man. He is a fake who is using religion to molest young children. Sick sick sick.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  16. Joe

    I don't understand why people get so up in arms over polygamy. If two girls want to marry the same guy and everyone is a consenting adult then what's the big deal? Same thing with gays getting married. I'm not personally going to do either one, but if other people want to I don't understand where anybody has the right to tell them no. The government should stay out of people's bedrooms; period, paragraph, end of discussion. Now, this whole child molesting thing is something COMPLETELY different. I hope that sicko rots in jail for the rest of his life. And for the love of Pete, would somebody please disconnect his phone!!!

    July 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Peter

      Well said

      July 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • fastball

      Fine, if they're consenting adults....that's one thing. But a lot of these girls are 15-16-17 years old...and that's too young to be in a conventional marriage, for crying out loud – let alone an unconventional one.
      Face it, this whole thing is about old men getting young (and several) women. Can't tell me otherwise.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • BL

      If it were only that simple. These guys use their fundamentalist ideology to promote child molestation and ruin the lives of young men they view as potential rivals to their pedophilia. BTW, if you want a good look into this lifestyle, rent "Big Love" on HBO several years. Great acting and writing.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Katie

      Joe, you don't have a grasp of what this is about. This isn't about consenting ADULTS, it's about adolescent girls, and boys. The wives are typically very young teenagers, and often married to relatives. They can, and often have been forced to be married to another man when their husbands offended Jeffs. Traded like cattle on the whim of Jeffs is a more apt description of female humans than anything else. Meanwhile, the polygamy in a closed community means too many boys. There are dozens of boys taken to Phoenix and dropped off like garbage. They're referred to as "lost boys" much like the African boys forced to soldiers. They are allowed no contact with their families, and having been raised in a town with no TV, and limited education, they are sheep for the slaughter. They have virtually no real world social skills or knowledge.
      This has nothing to do with consenting adults and everything to do with unbridled power, church sanctioned pedophilia and abandonment of unwanted adolescent boys.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Amy

      How would one define and rationalize " consenting" as pertaining to Mormon Fudamentalists? Can a person be consenting if the freedom of choice has been taken away>

      July 27, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Frogist

      @fastball: If they are under the age of consent, then it is not consentual. I don't know what Utah or Texas considers of age but if we go by the standard of 18 then anyone under that is not of age and not capable of giving consent.

      @Katie: Respectfully, I find nothing wrong with Joe's assessment. I don't think you should condemn all forms of multiple marriage just because this one guy has abused his powerful position and used religious ideology to create a hostile environment.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  17. Sam

    DO NOT ASSOCIATE THIS MAN WITH THE MORMON RELIGION!! Anyone practicing polygamy today IS NOT of the Mormon church.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Pirate

      LOL – pretty much all versions of the bible have polygamy – god even tells you how it should be done! Not that I believe in any invisible man in the sky with no proof except the whole "believe based on faith alone" gabage.. What stinks is the brainwashing and taking advantage of kids in this loony bin sect!

      July 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  18. tommy

    With the gay redefinition of marriage, it no longer makes sense to outlaw polygamy any more than it makes sense to outlaw gay marriage. As the gays say, it is a denial of basic rights not to allow people to marry whomever they want regardless of whether they are already married.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Joe

      I know you're being facetious, but I agree with your statement 100%. It's not MY business who YOU choose to marry.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • fastball

      Just keep it consenting adults. None of this teenaged stuff. These girls are raised in this environment and married off to some guy at 16? Seems to me, it's a breeding ground...plain and simple. Keep 'em young, keep 'em ignorant, and keep their noses in the kitchen, in the nursery and in the Bible.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • GodPot

      With the redefinition of States Rights, it no longer makes sense to outlaw blacks from marrying whites any more than it makes sense to outlaw blacks from using the same restrooms and lunch counters. As the blacks say, it is a denial of basic rights not to allow people to marry whomever they want regardless of their skin color...

      Boy, that sure does take on a whole new feeling when you change the names of the victims around a bit.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • NDNWarlord

      I hear ya. If you decide to" undefine " a word that's recognizable, for a word that doesn't resemble the original.... then communication as an accurate form of record keeping has lost its purpose. we already, as a global macrocosm, have reverted to barbarianism. Take what you can, if you can get away with it.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Frogist

      @NDNWarlord: Was that sarcasm? The concept of marriage has not been redefined to the extent that is it unrecognizable simply by allowing gays to marry.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  19. Zorton

    It matter not to Zorton what you humans think or believe. You are all the same. Weak minded, weak willed, and easily corralled. ZORTON HAS SPOKEN!!!

    July 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  20. Bumpits.com

    Is Mutt Romney buying him the phone cards?

    July 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Sam

      Different religion buddy. Please educate yourself. Mormons DO NOT practice polygamy. This man is the leader of some break-up sect that is in no way associated with Mormons.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • ralk

      No your mamma is. Get the religion right re tard.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • pam

      I bet the lds church is sending him money, they take care of there own.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • LDSRevelations


      How many times am I going to have to clarify this? Sheesh.

      FLDS are just as legitimately Mormon as the CoJCoLDS. Anyone who follows Joseph Smith and accepts the BoM are. I know LDS leaders have told you differently but they and you are wrong. And truthfully Jeffs practice of Mormonism is far closer to what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young did than what the church led by Thomas S. Monson does today. Seems ironic then for you to say that Jeffs is not Mormon. C'mon. Really?

      Sunnis don't own Muslim. Catholics don't own Christian. The CoJCoLDS does not own Mormon.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Frogist

      @LDS Revelations: Thanks for the excellent explanation.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:56 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.