SALT LAKE CITY — During his first six weeks in jail, the leader of a southern Utah polygamist church had frequent visits from a brother and another church elder — both of whom dissidents suggest are carrying messages from Purgatory Correctional Facility to the faithful.
Warren Steed Jeffs, 50, is president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect that practices polygamy in arranged marriages where most brides are teenage girls. Jeffs, arrested in August, is being held in Washington County, awaiting a Dec. 14 hearing to determine if he’ll stand trial on two felony counts of rape as an accomplice.
The Associated Press obtained the list of Jeffs’ weekly visitors through a public records request made to Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith. The list shows 17 different visitors signed in between Sept. 4-Nov. 4.
Jeffs’ most frequent visitor has been Richard Wright, the Las Vegas attorney Jeffs hired after his Aug. 28 arrest on a federal flight warrant during a Las Vegas-area traffic stop. Wright has made a dozen visits, some of them with Salt Lake City attorneys he helped Jeffs screen for the Utah case.
Jeffs is represented by attorneys Wally Bugden and Tara Isaacson. With Wright, they were among the first to see Jeffs at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane.
Jeffs exercises tremendous controls over his followers, dictating everything from who marries and when, to ordering excommunications and directing church members whether to pay taxes and cooperate with police and government officials.
The frequency of visitors from church members seems to indicate that Jeffs continues to be in control, said Isaac Wyler, a former church member who said he was kicked out by Jeffs in January 2004.
“My guess is he’s running everything from jail, just like he did before,” Wyler said.
Nephi Jeffs has made 10 trips to the jail to see his elder brother. Eight times he was accompanied by Lindsay Barlow, another member of the FLDS church.
“That says to me they’re the ones that are carrying messages,” said Wyler. “They’ll be bringing in questions and leaving with answers.”
Wyler and other former church members said Nephi Jeffs is his brother’s personal secretary. Barlow is said to be part of a church security force. Both men have been attending Warren Jeffs’ court hearings.
FLDS church members mostly live in Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., a pair of remote border towns where polygamy has been practiced for nearly 100 years. Faithful members of the church are said to be blindly obedient, believing that plural marriage ensures glorification in heaven.
Jeffs is revered as a prophet and members believe he communicates with God, thereby holding the keys to their salvation.
Also visiting Jeffs was J. Dee Roundy, a lifelong FLDS member whose father, Sam Roundy Jr., was the one-time chief of the Colorado City police department. J. Dee Roundy was among 11 FLDS men selected to attend Nov. 21 preliminary hearing for Jeffs — a distinction that is likely considered a church calling.
“Those are hand-picked men to be there,” Wyler said.
Nine of the people whose names appear on the visitor list could not immediately be identified by the AP, Wyler, or several other former church members. All of the nine visited Jeffs in the first week, but have not returned to see him. There are both men and women, some of whom share a last name common in FLDS circles.
Although Jeffs is locked down 23 hours daily, he shares the same visitation rights as other jail inmates, Washington County sheriff’s Lt. James Standley, who supervises housing. Each inmate is allowed an hour of visitation three times weekly.
“The only real difference with Jeffs is he has a specific visitation time,” Standley said. “We don’t have him in with other inmates because we’re obligated to keep him safe.”
Background checks are conducted on all visitors, who must supply corrections officials with Social Security and driver’s license numbers, and present photo identification each time they visit, Standley said. Inmates also submit a list of approved visitors to jail officers.
“Initially [Jeffs] had a lot of people who wanted to see him, reporters and such,” said Standley. “But he didn’t want to see them. He gets to choose.”