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Polygamist leader claimed 20 ‘wives,’ including minors, FBI says

Family and followers of Samuel Bateman gather around. He was arrested in August in Arizona. (Trent Nelson/the Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

The self-proclaimed prophet claimed it was “impressions of Heavenly Father’s will” that spurred him to force his followers, including children, to engage in sexual acts, according to new allegations from the FBI.

Samuel Rappylee Bateman, a leader of an offshoot of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, allegedly counted his own daughter and other juvenile girls among his more than 20 “wives.” Many of them were younger than 15, an FBI agent wrote in a court document filed Friday.

Bateman’s alleged foray into polygamy began in 2019, when he was married to one woman and had a daughter who was roughly 14. While in the car one day, the daughter later told investigators, Bateman said that he felt like she was his wife and that he would make her have a child if his feelings turned out to be right.

When Bateman told his actual wife, she moved out of their home with their daughter and got a restraining order against him, according to the court filing, previously reported by the Salt Lake Tribune. But Bateman allegedly continued to tell his daughter he wanted to kiss and touch her. From then on, the FBI agent wrote, he accumulated wives.

Bateman, 46, is in federal custody in Arizona on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly asking followers to delete his Signal phone app, which he used to communicate with them and his wives. He has pleaded not guilty to that charge and to state-level child abuse charges.

Adam Zickerman, an attorney for Bateman, emphasized Wednesday that Bateman has not been charged with sex crimes — although the FBI agent wrote that there is probable cause to believe that Bateman engaged in criminal sexual activity with minors in 2020 and 2021.

“This case continues to appear to be a quest for religious persecution; and Mr. Bateman maintains his innocence throughout it,” Zickerman said in a statement.

The FBI affidavit, filed in the Eastern District of Washington, paints a picture of a long-running setup in which Bateman tried to use God as a defense for repeatedly manipulating his so-called wives and some of his male followers into engaging in sexual acts. The allegations follow the escape — and subsequent discovery — of several girls who had been in state custody after being removed from the rest of Bateman’s roughly 50 followers.

Two people who talked with investigators — a woman who tried to help members of Bateman’s group and her husband, who was filming a documentary — told them Bateman had driven to their home on the Arizona-Utah border in late 2020. He allegedly arrived in a large SUV filled with women and girls, the youngest of whom was roughly 9, and introduced them all as his wives.

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In a separate incident, the FBI agent wrote, a recording captured Bateman saying God had told him to give “his girls’ virtue” to some of his male followers by forcing them to have sex while others watched.

“God will fix their bodies and put the membrane back in their body,” Bateman said, according to the court filing. “I’ve never had more confidence in doing his will. It’s all out of love.”

Bateman allegedly told the girls to say there was no darkness in his actions. Crying, the girls responded that they hurt but that there was no darkness.

“It’s a privilege to hurt someone else so they can rise,” they said, according to the FBI agent’s recounting of the audio.

Legally, children cannot consent to sex with adults.

Bateman, who was living in Colorado City, Ariz., was arrested by law enforcement officers from that state in August for allegedly towing a box trailer with at least three girls riding unsecured. He then allegedly asked his wives to delete his Signal account while he was in prison and later tried to figure out how to do a factory reset on his cellphone. Federal agents subsequently arrested him on tampering and records destruction charges.

In September, the Arizona Department of Child Services took nine girls from Bateman’s compound into custody. Eight of them disappeared two months later from the state-run group homes where they were staying. Sheriff’s officers in Spokane, Wash., later found them leaving an Airbnb in a car driven by one of Bateman’s wives.

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.