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 a prophet, according to federal court documents filed Friday.
The documents offer a glimpse into what investigators found in a case that first came to light in August. The case came to light after federal authorities charged three of the self-proclaimed prophet’s wives with kidnapping and obstruction of hearings after eight young women linked to the group fled state custody.
Naomi Bistline and Donen Barlow appeared in federal magistrate court in Flagstaff on Wednesday. He is in jail and the hearing is to be held next week. Moretta Rose Johnson awaits extradition from Washington state.
The FBI affidavit filed in the women’s case focuses on Samuel Bateman, who declared himself a prophet in 2019. Authorities wrote that Bateman committed sex acts involving minors and gifted wives to his male followers, claiming that he did so by order of “heavenly”. Father”. The men supported Bateman financially and gave him their wives and young daughters as wives.
Bateman, 46, pleaded not guilty to state child abuse charges and federal evidence tampering charges. The trial on the federal charges is set to begin in January. He is incarcerated in Arizona.
Samuel Bateman was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) until he left a few years ago and formed his own group, said Sam Brown, who has spent years researching the group. , According to Brower, Bateman was once a confidant of imprisoned politician Warren Jeffs, who denounced him in a written message to supporters from jail.
Jeff is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sexual abuse related to marriage at an early age.
The FLDS is also a minor denomination of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormon Church. Polygamy is a legacy of that church’s early mainstream teachings, but it abandoned the practice in 1890 and is strictly forbidden.
Federal authorities say Bateman committed horrific acts against minors and asked his followers to help hide his whereabouts. According to the FBI affidavit, he demanded that his followers publicly acknowledge all of his indiscretions and share them widely. According to the affidavit, he said that the punishment, which ranged from suspension to public shaming and sexual activity, came from the Lord. Bateman lived in Colorado City, a community that straddles the Arizona-Utah border. Bateman and his followers believe that polygamy leads to flourishing in heaven.
Bateman once attempted to take his only daughter as his wife, but she told her mother about her father’s plans. They both move out and get a restraining order against Bateman. His mother was his only wife before Bateman took more wives in 2019.
Bateman was first arrested in August after someone noticed little fingers sticking out of the opening of a trailer he was driving through Flagstaff. Police found three girls aged 11 to 14 in a makeshift room in a trailer without ventilation.
Bateman posted bail but was arrested again in September and charged with obstruction of justice in a federal investigation into whether girls were being transported across state lines for use in sex work .
During the arrests in September, officers removed nine girls from Bateman’s Colorado City home and placed them in temporary custody.
According to the FBI affidavit, none of the girls, identified only by their initials in court documents, disclosed sexual abuse by Bateman during interviews with forensic experts, although one said she witnessed sexual activity. However, several girls wrote in journals seized by the FBI about intimate conversations with Bateman. Authorities believe the older girls influenced the younger children not to talk about Bateman, the FBI said.
Eight girls later escaped from guardianship, and the FBI claimed that Bistline, Barlow and Johnson—all wives or ex-wives of Bateman and related to the girls—had come to Arizona to collect them. The girls were found hundreds of miles (kilometers) away last week in a vehicle driven by Johnson in Spokane, Washington, according to the FBI affidavit.
Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.