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FBI says polygamist leader took 20 wives, many underage, alleges illicit sexual activities

Dec 6, 2022, 1:17 PM | Updated: Jan 4, 2023, 11:25 am
A sign marking the entrance to Hildale in Utah, from Colorado City in Arizona. (FILE)...
A sign marking the entrance to Hildale in Utah, from Colorado City in Arizona. (FILE)
(FILE)

Probable cause documents lay out illicit sexual activities of a small religious group — that included underage girls — under the orders of Samuel Rappylee Bateman, living on the Utah and Arizona border. The documents also detail how girls were helped to run away by Bateman’s adult plural wives after they were removed from family custody following a raid.

Bateman is a self-proclaimed prophet of the FLDS — or Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that practices polygamy. According to the FBI he has approximately 50 followers and 20 wives, many who are under legal marrying age.

He was arrested Aug. 28 in Arizona for child endangerment when he was said to be towing a box trailer with a least three girls riding unsecured in the trailer. Arizona officers seized his cell phone as evidence and in a telephone call from jail, he instructed others to delete his entire account on an a messaging app called Signal.

After his release, he was arrested again on Sept. 13 on a federal warrant, that included search warrants on multiple properties. In the sealed indictment, Bateman is charged with three counts of destroying or concealing records associated with his Signal account to hinder the federal investigation. In the third count it includes “others known and unknown to the grand jury.”

Probable cause documents involving a self-proclaimed prophet Samuel Bateman.

Bateman has not been charged with sex crimes involving the underage girls that were taken into Arizona state custody on Sept. 14, but Bateman is still in state custody on three federal obstruction charges and probable cause documents obtained by KSL TV highlight several instances of alleged abuse and suggests there could be others that remain undisclosed.

The criminal complaint used to establish probable cause for a judge calls all the underage girls Jane Doe, numbering them 1 through 11. It alleges Bateman and three of his adult wives “engaged in the transportation of minors in interstate commerce to engage in criminal sexual activity, and travel in interstate commerce to engage in illicit sexual conduct with minors,” between May 2020 and November 2021.

Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Nebraska are listed as states used by the accused and the criminal complaint also documents trips to Canada. Documents state many of Bateman’s “over 20 wives” are “minors, mostly under the age of 15.”

Documents state “Bateman allegedly has ‘impressions of Heavenly Father’s will’  to encourage his followers, including the minor children, to engage in sexual acts and relies on that submission to do his own will.”

In 2019, documents state Bateman proclaimed that he was a prophet, translated from known and jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, a former FLDS leader who was convicted of sexually assaulting some of his underage wives. Jeffs is serving a life sentence.

In 2019 Bateman was married to one woman but told her that he had a feeling he should take his own daughter — Jane Doe #1, or JD#1, — as his wife. His wife told him their daughter would never be his wife, moved out of the house and obtained a restraining order against Bateman.

He maintained communication with JD#1, his daughter, who kept a journal, later obtained by law enforcement,  that documented the dates Bateman introduced his new wives to her. They were the daughters of his followers. Documents do not claim that Bateman leads the FLDS church, only his group of followers.

As Bateman took more wives, different members of the community or family members of the Jane Does contacted different law enforcement agencies to report Bateman for suspected crimes, including kidnapping.

Agencies investigated the calls and questioned Bateman and other adults, including a parent of each minor who said “their children were fine with Bateman,” documents state.

Other details were handed to authorities that included recordings of conversations including one that recounted the story of what was called “the Atonement,” involving Bateman giving wives to his three male followers.

Informants told the FBI that in December 2020, Bateman arrived at a house in Colorado City, Arizona, adjacent to Utah city Hildale,  in a “large SUV packed with women and girls.” Bateman introduced everyone as his wives, including one Jane Doe born in 2011, making her 9 or 10 at the time.

He is also said to have ordered underage wives to watch sexual activities to learn and sometimes instructed them to touch him. At least one interview subject said this definitely involved at least one of the underage Jane Does.

The documents detail various illicit sexual activities including, as one example, demanding public confessions where Bateman “encouraged the confessions to be as vulgar as possible.” They also speak of the anguish one male follower experienced as “extreme stress” about giving his youngest daughter to Bateman. He later pressured that follower to give up his own wives and claimed daughters of other followers.

After Bateman’s September arrest, and after the underage girls were removed from family custody, they were interviewed and placed in group homes to await hearings.

None of the girls disclosed sex abuse by Bateman but one admitted being present and partially nude for adult group sex activities detailed in probable cause documents that KSL TV is choosing not to publish or detail. FBI agents also reviewed journals by his teen and pre-teen wives, seized when search warrants were exercised, that reference probable sexual activities with Bateman.

The girls refused to participate in interviews and one told an interviewer, “I can’t talk to you.” Then, before Thanksgiving one of the girls disclosed sexual abuse.

On Nov. 27 eight of the nine girls ran away from the state group home where they were kept in family groups. One stayed behind.

Local law enforcement searched electronics they may have been using while in the homes and said the girls were still being influenced by some of Bateman’s adult wives using Signal and email. On a video call made Nov. 27 by Bateman while in Arizona custody, two adult sister wives told Bateman they had two of the girls with them. Bateman stressed they all needed to be together.

On Nov. 29 all eight missing girls were located and identified in Spokane Washington. Naomi Bristline, Donnae Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson “with aiders and abettors, have committed or conspired to commit obstruction of justice,” probable cause documents state. They are named for two counts of obstruction of justice each in the criminal complaint.

The current location of the underage girls is not clear.

The legal age for marriage in Utah is 16 with parental consent or 18 without parental consent, the same as Arizona law.

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FBI says polygamist leader took 20 wives, many underage, alleges illicit sexual activities