An imprisoned polygamist leader helped plan girls’ escapes

Samuel Bateman, a self-proclaimed prophet who is behind bars while awaiting trial, worked with three adult women he claims are his wives to help the girls escape foster care, lawyers claim .

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) FBI agents raid the home of Samuel Bateman in Colorado City, Arizona on Tuesday, September 13, 2022. Prosecutors this week accused Bateman of orchestrating the escapes of girls he believed were his wives from state foster families while they await trial behind bars. In court documents filed on Wednesday, December 14, 2022, they allege the self-proclaimed polygamous “prophet” has worked with adult women, whom he also claims are wives helping underage girls escape from foster care , to which they were sent following his arrest earlier this year.

The leader of a small polygamous group on the Arizona-Utah border helped orchestrate the escape of eight girls he considered his wives from group homes where they were being placed after authorities learned of what happened, prosecutors allege in a court filing on Wednesday.

An indictment filed by US attorneys in Arizona describes how Sam Bateman, a self-proclaimed prophet who is behind bars while awaiting trial, worked with three adult women he claims are his wives to order to help the girls escape from foster care.

The document, an updated or “replacing” indictment, is the latest development in a federal case that has rocked Bateman’s small community on the Utah-Arizona border.

[Read more: Polygamous leader Samuel Bateman: What we know so far]

It contains previous charges against Bateman for allegedly obstructing his forthcoming prosecution. In support of four new charges against him, prosecutors allege Bateman spoke to two of the women, whom he calls wives, over video calls from the federal prison where he is being held. Those calls include conversations while the women were driving from Arizona to Washington state and while they were in a hotel room with the girls, the indictment alleges.

In one of the calls, Bateman asked the women, who typically live in Arizona, if prosecutors said they were in “our state.” They replied that this was not the case. On another, one of his wives assured him, “We’ll help you.” On a third, they discussed the vehicle change. The police were chasing her at the time.

[Read more: Officials took girls from a historically polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border. Then the girls went missing.]

Prosecutors charge Bateman with collaborating with those two women and a third to “unlawfully seize, detain, seduce, bait, abduct, abduct and carry away” three children and transport them to Washington state. Each of these women — Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson — face four counts along with Bateman in the updated indictment.

The three girls named were born between 2009 and 2011 and are under the age of 14, although the indictment says a total of eight minors were taken from state custody. A ninth girl, also removed from Bateman’s group in September, remained in state custody.

The community where Bateman and those he claims to be wives live has undergone major changes recently, but for decades it was a stronghold of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a polygamist offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream church, but abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.

The offshoot group, known by the acronym FLDS, garnered national attention more than a decade ago when federal authorities indicted its leader, Warren Jeffs, for child sexual abuse in connection with underage marriages.

[Read more: He told FLDS followers that Warren Jeffs was dead. Then, Samuel Bateman said he was their prophet now.]

Bateman is a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which formed his own apostate group a few years ago after Jeffs went to prison.

He was once among Jeff’s most trusted followers, but Jeffs denounced Bateman in a written revelation he sent to his followers from prison, investigator Sam Brower, who has followed the group for years, told The Associated Press this year.

Bateman now faces the tampering of federal evidence and state child molestation charges. About two weeks ago, federal complaints charged Bistline, Barlow and Johnson with helping eight children placed in foster care after Bateman’s arrest escape from their assigned homes.

Although federal prosecutors alleged in the women’s original indictment documents that Bateman took some of the girls in question as child brides, they have not filed charges of molestation or underage marriages. The US Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to questions about whether additional charges would be filed.

[Read more: What happened to Bateman’s underage wives since he was arrested]

However, authorities allege in court documents in the overlapping cases that Bateman orchestrated sexual acts with minors and gifted wives to male followers. The men supported Bateman financially and gave him their own wives and young daughters for wives.

They also claim that Bateman would require his followers to publicly confess any indiscretions and later share those confessions widely. He claimed punishments ranging from time off to public shaming and sexual activity came from the Lord, prosecutors claim.

— The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this report. An imprisoned polygamist leader helped plan girls’ escapes

Justin Scacco

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