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Texas probes whether polygamist leader preached from jail

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Texas prison officials are investigating whether jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs preached to his followers from behind bars on Christmas Day in violation of prison rules, officials said on Thursday.

Jeffs, 56, who is the self-proclaimed 'prophet' of a breakaway Mormon sect, is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting two girls he wed as spiritual brides when they were 12 and 14 years old at his sect's Texas ranch.

"We have confirmed that Jeffs made two phone calls on Christmas Day to a relative," Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division spokesman Jason Clark said.

"At this point, we're investigating whether he may have circumvented policy and may have spoken to his congregation," he added.

Such a move, if confirmed by the investigation, would be the latest indication Jeffs was trying to maintain sway over his sect, which has been condemned by the mainstream Mormon Church and accused of promoting marriages between older men and girls.

Clark wouldn't say how officials were tipped off to the possible infraction, but said the department's Office of Inspector General was investigating and Jeffs could face internal punishment including losing his phone privileges.

Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which teaches that for a man to be among the select in heaven he must have at least three wives, is estimated to have 10,000 followers in North America.

Jeffs was hospitalized for nearly a month earlier this year for going on a fast that former sect members described as an attempt to communicate to followers across North America of their need to sacrifice on his behalf.

He is now back in the prison system, where he receives special protection as a high profile offender.

Texas prison inmates are ordered to adhere to a strict set of rules in using telephones, and are typically allowed to call only 10 people on an approved visitation list, Clark said.

"Those people have to have gone through a vetting process, meaning that phone number has to be registered, it has to be registered to a land line," he added.

"If the calls he made on Christmas were put on speaker phone or patched through to someone else, that would be a violation of policy," Clark said, adding that recording the conversation would also constitute a violation.

Texas prison inmates are not allowed to possess cell phones, and their telephone activity is monitored to make sure they are not calling crime victims, organizing escapes, or doing anything other than conducting one-on-one conversations with individuals on their approved list.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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