SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The leader of a small polygamous group on the Arizona-Utah border helped orchestrate the escape of eight girls he considered his wives from a group home where they were being placed after authorities found the Had learned what happened, prosecutors claim 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 is the latest development in a federal case that has rocked Bateman’s small community on the Utah-Arizona border.
It complements existing fees Bateman is on trial for obstructing his upcoming prosecution. In it, prosecutors allege that Bateman spoke via video call from the federal prison where he is being held with two of the women he describes as wives, including while they were driving from Arizona to Washington state and while they were with them in a hotel room were girls.
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.
Prosecutors charge Bateman with collaborating with three of the women he says are his wives to “unlawfully apprehend, imprison, seduce, bait, kidnap, abduct and carry away” three children and them to be shipped to Washington State.
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 its acronym FLDS, garnered national attention more than a decade ago when federal authorities filed indictments against its leader, Warren Jeffsfor child sexual abuse in connection with underage marriages.
Bateman is a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who 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, three women he describes as wives – Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson – were accused of helping nine children placed in foster care after Bateman’s arrest flee their assigned homes.
Although federal prosecutors alleged in the women’s 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.
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.