When polygamist Samuel Bateman appears in Coconino Superior Court Friday afternoon for a detention hearing, the leader of a splinter faction of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints may have bigger worries on his mind.
Bateman entered a plea of not guilty in both federal and state cases involving his relationships with underage girls, according to court documents. Bateman faces a federal case charging of destruction of evidence and an Arizona state case charging him with child abuse.
But leaked FBI documents and a flurry of social media criticism since his arrest suggests that his legal problems may be mounting. An FBI search warrant affidavit obtained and publicized by the Salt Lake Tribune last month raises the possibility of more serious sex-trafficking charges down the road. Unconfirmed public complaints on social media platforms by community members who know Bateman voice concerns about his relationships with minors. The fact that a federal judge ordered that Bateman remain in custody after his re-arrest by the FBI, a departure from his release a month earlier on state charges, suggests matters could take a turn for the serious for the 46-year-old Bateman.
Bateman, 46, calls himself a prophet and is sometimes described as a spiritual “father” to members of the sect.
Against that backdrop, the lawyer representing Bateman, who calls himself a prophet and is sometimes described as a spiritual “father” to members of the sect, suggested the government is persecuting his client because of his religious beliefs.
Samuel Bateman: What you need to know about FLDS leader’s arrest
“Oddly, the federal government moved quickly on this matter, where other matters being handled by the FBI … are moving ever so slowly,” said Adam Zickerman, founder of the Zickerman Law Firm in Flagstaff. “It begs the question of swift actions dealing with and against the freedom of religion.”
On Aug. 28, Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers found Bateman driving south through Flagstaff with three girls between 11 and 14 stashed in a horse trailer. Police pulled him over after seeing “children fingers moving in the gap of the rear trailer door.” They arrested Bateman, but he was released and went home to Colorado City, on the Arizona-Utah state line.
The FBI rearrested Bateman in Colorado City on Sept. 13.
Agents executed a search warrant on his property and took Bateman into custody on charges related to the destruction of evidence. Federal prosecutors hold that Bateman began to destroy evidence from his phone during the Aug. 28 arrest.
According to reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune, the FBI searched his homes for “lingerie style underwear that could be worn by minors,” as well as evidence that he was paying to transport underage girls so he could marry them off or to enable sexual acts.
Since the federal raid, people who live in the community or were ex-members of the FLDS church have spoken out publicly on social media about ongoing concerns around Bateman’s relationships with his followers. They claim on TikTok and YouTube that law enforcement and FBI had their eye on Bateman for some time.
During the FBI’s search, nine girls were taken from Bateman’s home and a warehouse in his name, according to media reports. They placed the girls into child protective services, but it is unclear if those girls and the three found in the horse trailer still remain in child protective custody.
Currently, Bateman sits in jail under U.S. Marshals Service custody. Arizona U.S. District Court Judge Camille Bibles ordered on Sept. 15 that Bateman sit in jail without bond because of public safety concerns and his ability to travel internationally. The judge mentioned that Bateman had traveled internationally in the past three years and noted his active pilot’s license.
Bateman’s homes and religious following is based out of the twin border cities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, known collectively to locals as ”Short Creek.” The area has long had ties to fundamentalist polygamous sects, most notably the splinter sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints controlled by Warren Jeffs.
Reach crime reporter Miguel Torres at Miguel.Torres@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @TheMiguelTorres.