FBI: Arizona cult leader had 20 wives, some as young as 9
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (WTVO) — According to the FBI, an accused polygamist cult leader in Arizona had 20 wives, including underage girls and one who was possibly his own daughter.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation filed an affidavit in federal court on Friday accusing Samuel Rappylee Bateman, 46, of transporting minors between Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Nebraska to engage in illicit sexual conduct.
He has not been charged with sexual abuse, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, but was arrested on charges of child abuse. He has been in jail since his arrest.
Bateman pleaded not guilty in September to charges of tampering with evidence and attempting to destroy records after he was stopped on a highway and police found young girls inside an enclosed trailer.
According to KSAZ, authorities found three girls between the ages of 11 and 14 inside the unventilated trailer, which also contained a makeshift toilet, couch, and camping chairs.
Law enforcement said Bateman, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), is part of a small group that practices polygamy, even though it is illegal in the U.S.
The Mormon church has denounced FLDS and maintains that polygamy is grounds for ex-communication from the faith.
The FBI said eight girls were found at Bateman’s Colorado City home during an FBI raid on Sept. 13.
The affidavit described Bateman as a cult leader with “approximately 50 followers and over 20 wives, many of whom are minors, mostly under the age of 15,” the FBI said.
One of the girls was reported to be 9 years old.
Bateman is also accused of trying to marry his own daughter, according to the FBI, who spoke to a couple who were filming a documentary about his community.
“Bateman allegedly has ‘impressions of Heavenly Father’s will’ to encourage his followers, including the minor children, to engage in sexual acts and relies on that submission to do his own will,” the affidavit reads.
The affidavit also says that Bateman would arrange for group sex acts in a “Binding of Brothers” ritual in which he would have sex with the wives of his male followers while other men and underage girls looked on.
Bateman said the “Heavenly Father” ordered him to “give the most precious thing he has, his girls’ virtue,” to his male followers. One of the girls was reportedly only 12 years old.
“The girls, who were crying on the recording, said they hurt but there was not darkness. Bateman said the girls have sacrificed their virtue for the Lord,” Special Agent Dawn Martin wrote in the affidavit.
Bateman is also reported to have been a follower of Warren Jeffs, the former leader of FLDS who was ultimately charged with sexual assault of minors in three states.
Jeffs denounced Bateman in a message sent to his followers from prison, according to KSAZ.