Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs loses prison phone privileges

JeffsphotoTexas corrections officials have revoked the phone privileges of imprisoned polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs after he allegedly placed  calls in which he preached to his followers.

The sect leader’s phone privileges were revoked for 90 days starting Jan. 6, Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons told The Times on Tuesday.

Lyons said prison officials began investigating soon after receiving reports that Jeffs had used phone calls to preach a Christmas sermon. They found that Jeffs had placed at least two calls on Christmas Day, each lasting about 15 minutes, to individuals who were on his approved visitors' list. But the calls were then placed on speakerphone -- in violation of prison policy, Lyons said.

“You’re not to speak to a group — you’re to speak to the person who is approved to receive your phone call,” Lyons said, adding that officials determined through their investigation that “it was apparent he was speaking to more than one person.”

Once the calls were turned into conference calls, it became unclear who took part in the conversations, Lyons said.

Jeffs is barred from visiting children under age 17, Lyons said.

He was convicted and sentenced to life plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two girls -- both underage brides. Those charges followed a 2008 raid on the West Texas ranch where followers of his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints still live. Members have said they still revere Jeffs and plan to follow him while he is imprisoned.

Lyons said prison rules do not explicitly bar prisoners from using their phone calls to preach.

“The greater issue is that he was obviously talking to more than one person,” she said.

Jeffs is currently held in isolation at a state prison in Palestine, about 140 miles north of Houston, where inmates are allowed up to 10 approved visitors on their phone list. The calls must be placed to a land line, not a mobile phone, and must be to an individual caller, not a group.

Jeffs is not barred from receiving visitors, Lyons said.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Photo: Warren Jeffs talks with a defense attorney in 2010. Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas, had his phone privileges suspended for 90 days after he allegedly used prison calls to preach during the Christmas holiday. Credit: Doug Pizac/Reuters

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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