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Texas bigamist, a Warren Jeffs follower, gets 10 years in prison

A West Texas polygamist who authorities said had multiple “celestial marriages” was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.

Wendell Loy Nielsen, 71, was given a 10-year term on each of the three counts of bigamy for which he convicted and will serve them concurrently. He was also ordered to pay $30,000 in fines.

Nielsen, a former associate of polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs, was found guilty Wednesday of marrying three women in addition to his legal wife. He married two of the three on the same day in 2006, prosecutors said.

Nielsen is the former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon offshoot sect. He was one of a dozen people indicted after a 2008 raid on the sect’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, about 150 miles southeast of Midland.

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According to the Texas attorney general’s office, 11 defendants connected to the ranch faced indictments on counts of sexual assault of a child, bigamy or other charges; all have been convicted on felony charges and sentenced to prison.

Nielsen had rejected a plea deal last year that would have allowed him to avoid jail.

During Nielsen’s trial this month, his attorney had argued that the sect’s “celestial marriages” did not violate state anti-bigamy laws.

The San Angelo Standard-Times cited “extraneous offense documents” submitted by prosecutors that allege Nielsen married 34 women in addition to his first wife, including mothers and daughters and sisters, and performed marriage ceremonies for Jeffs and underage girls.

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Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas state prison after he was convicted last year of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not recognize the sect and long ago disavowed plural marriage.

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