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FBI: Polygamous leader had 20 wives, many of them minors

Published:Wednesday | December 7, 2022 | 4:37 PM
This undated photo provided by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office shows Samuel Bateman who faces state child abuse charges and federal charges of tampering with evidence. Bateman is the leader of a small polygamous group near the Arizona-Utah border. (Coconino County Sheriff's Department via AP)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The leader of a small polygamous group near the Arizona-Utah border had taken at least 20 wives, most of them minors, and punished followers who did not treat him as a prophet, newly filed federal court documents allege.

Samuel Bateman was a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, until he left to start his own small offshoot group.

The FLDS is itself a breakaway sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, widely known as the Mormon Church. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream church, but it abandoned the practise in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.

Bateman started his own small group in recent years, in which he was supported financially by male followers who also gave up their own wives and children to be Bateman's wives, according to an FBI affidavit.

The document filed Friday provides new insight into what investigators have found in a case that first became public in August when authorities said they pulled over Bateman on a highway and discovered he was driving three young girls in an enclosed trailer.

The latest filing accompanied charges of kidnapping and impeding a foreseeable prosecution against three of Bateman's wives — Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson. Bateman is already facing state and federal charges of child abuse and tampering with evidence.

He pleaded not guilty in September.

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