Texas prison officials have suspended indefinitely the phone privileges of convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs while they investigate whether he violated rules with improper telephone calls on Christmas Day.
Officials believe the calls Jeffs made to two approved people on his phone list were broadcast on a speakerphone to his congregation, a violation of the prison phone rules.
"At this point, he's unable to make phone calls pending the outcome of the investigation," Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said Wednesday.
He said the inquiry would likely wrap up within the next week or so. Authorities aren't saying how they found out Jeffs may have been preaching over the phone, but have noted that except for calls to their lawyers, calls made through the inmate telephone system are monitored and recorded.
Jeffs, 56, is serving a life sentence plus 20 years at an East Texas prison for sexually assaulting two of his underage brides. The charges followed a raid in 2008 on a West Texas ranch that's home to followers of his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Each of the Christmas Day calls lasted 15 minutes, the maximum duration before calls are cut off. Clark said the two people Jeffs called have been suspended from his call list, which can contain up to 10 names. They were not identified. Names on inmates' phone lists are not a matter of public record, he said.
People on the list have gone through a registration process and also are made aware of the rules that stipulate the calls must be to a single person, be made to a land line and not to a cell phone and can't be to a business or to an international number.
Clark also said Wednesday that officials have ruled out the possibility Jeffs may have used a smuggled cell phone to make calls.
"We've not found any cell phones in his possession," he said
Jeffs is being held in protective custody, meaning he's isolated from other inmates, at the Powledge Unit prison near Palestine, about 140 miles north of Houston.
Former members of his Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have said he likely would continue to lead the church from inside prison, and that his followers likely still revere him as a prophet despite the considerable evidence at his trial showing he sexually assaulted young girls.
Prosecutors at his August trial used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.
Jeffs, who has no lawyer, faced a bigamy trial next month although prosecutors have asked it be delayed until late in the year since he's already locked up with a lengthy sentence. The bigamy charges are related to one of the two underage girls in the August assault trial.