According to federal court documents, the leader of a small polygamous group on the Arizona-Utah border had at least 20 wives, most of them minors, and punished members who did not consider him prophetic.
Samuel Bateman was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until he left to form his own group. According to FBI documents, he was supported financially by followers, who gave him their wives and daughters.
Documents filed Friday offer a glimpse of what investigators found in a case that first came to light in August. They are linked on charges of kidnapping and obstruction of his three wives: Naomi Bistline, Donna Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson.
Bistline and Barlow were to appear in Flagstaff court on Wednesday. Johnson is awaiting extradition from Washington state.
The women are accused of fleeing with Bateman’s eight children, who are being held in state custody in Arizona. The children were found hundreds of kilometers (miles) away in Spokane, Washington, last week.
Bateman was arrested in August after someone noticed little fingers sticking out of the opening of a trailer he was driving through Flagstaff. He posted bail but was arrested again and charged with obstruction of justice in a federal investigation into whether children were being transported from state to state for sexual activity.
The documents say Bateman, 46, engaged in child sex trafficking and polygamy, but the current indictment is not tied to those allegations. Polygamy is illegal in Arizona, but was decriminalized in Utah in 2020.
Darren Daronko, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Child Care, and Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the FBI, declined to comment Tuesday. Bestline’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment, and Barlow’s attorney declined to comment. There is no Johnson’s Attorney article available at this time.