Polygamous sect leader accused of taking more than 20 wives — half of them girls under 18

Polygamous sect leader accused of taking more than 20 wives — half of them girls under 18

A polygamous sect leader and some of his followers have been indicted for allegedly conspiring to travel across Arizona state lines and get "wives" for him, authorities said Thursday.

A federal grand jury on Wednesday issued a superseding indictment against 47-year-old Samuel Rappylee Bateman of Colorado City, Ariz., and 10 of his followers.

Authorities accuse Bateman of taking more than 20 wives, including 10 girls under the age of 18.

The superseding indictment also charges Bateman with the production of child pornography.

It alleges that in late November 2020, Bateman co-ordinated group sexual activity in a Colorado Springs hotel room with some of his followers, and that included underage girls.

Bateman and three of his 10 followers charged in the superseding indictment are scheduled to be arraigned Friday in a Phoenix, Ariz., federal court.

Authorities said five others were to have their initial court appearances Thursday in St. George, Utah, while one woman is detained pending trial in Phoenix and another awaits a May 30 detention hearing in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Bateman was arrested last year and remains in federal custody pending his trial, which is scheduled for March 5, 2024.

He was previously charged with kidnapping, child abuse and tampering with evidence, and he pleaded not guilty.

A call from The Associated Press to one of Bateman's lawyers seeking comment about the case wasn't immediately returned Thursday.

A man with dark hair, wearing a navy blue jumpsuit, stands in front of a grey backdrop looking straight ahead.
Samuel Bateman seen in an undated photo provided by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office. (Coconino County Sheriff's Department/The Associated Press)

Accused allegedly 'trained' minors

The indictment adds to a raft of charges filed against Bateman last year in Arizona and federal courts.

The May 18 document provides new details about how Bateman — with the help of followers — took wives as young as nine years old.

In December, federal prosecutors charged Bateman and several of his wives with kidnapping minors and impeding a foreseeable prosecution for helping young girls associated with the group flee Arizona foster care.

An FBI affidavit published in December as part of the case claimed Bateman took more than 20 wives, including 10 girls under the age of 18. Though it detailed him engaging minors in sexual activity, the latest indictment expands on the allegations and is the first to charge him for such acts.

It says Bateman travelled extensively between Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Nebraska and allegedly had sex with the minor girls on a regular basis. It also charges Bateman with the production of child pornography, alleging some of the sexual activity was transmitted across state lines via electronic devices.

It does not specify if the encounters were recorded or took place over video or texting. Relying on journals, day planners and text messages, it says Bateman initiated sexual encounters with groups of followers in hotel rooms, including one that began with a religious rite-inspired "washing of the feet." He traded wives back and forth with male followers.

The indictment also alleges Bateman "encouraged the minors to participate in the sexual activity and trained them to do so," including with girls so young that he once became upset when one wet the bed.

He told girls 10 and younger, "You belong to me," and one who the indictment describes as nine or 10 years old described the sexual encounters as "definitely terrifying."

The indictment also claims several followers — men and women — denied the allegations of abuse, including of their own children, when interviewed by the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

Three men with long guns standing in front of vehicles with blue and red lights on.
FBI agents raid the home of Samuel Bateman in Colorado City, Ariz., on on Sept. 13, 2022. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune/The Associated Press)

Religious sect offshoot

The indictment alleges Bateman worked to win followers in at least four states to start his own small offshoot group of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).

The FLDS is itself a breakaway sect of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The sect is known because its leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence in federal prison in Texas.

Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream church, which is widely known as the Mormon church, but it abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.