Several weeks after being stopped on the highway with young girls in an enclosed trailer, the leader of a small polygamous group near the Arizona-Utah border pleaded not guilty to federal charges of tampering with evidence.
Three counts of destroying or attempting to destroy records were filed against Samuel Bateman earlier this month, along with tampering with criminal proceedings. In Flagstaff, a mountain city where a state police agency arrested him in late August after someone noticed tiny fingers in the trailer’s rear door, he pleaded not guilty in U.S. Magistrate Court.
According to court documents, three girls aged 11 to 14 were found in the trailer he was hauling through Flagstaff. According to the papers, there was no ventilation in the trailer, which included a makeshift toilet, a couch, and camping chairs.
Sam Brower, who has spent years investigating this group, said Bateman was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints before leaving and starting his own smaller offshoot group in recent years. Infamous polygamist, Warren Jeffs, currently imprisoned, denounced Bateman, who was once one of his most trusted allies.
Brower, who wrote a book on the FLDS and appeared in the Netflix series “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” estimated Bateman’s group still practices plural marriage with less than 100 members.
According to federal prosecutor Patrick Schneider, Bateman instructed his supporters in Colorado City, Arizona, from the Coconino County Jail in Flagstaff to delete communications sent via encrypted private messaging systems and demanded that all women and girls get passports.
As a result of an FBI search warrant recently served on Bateman’s home in Colorado City, Schneider said the state child welfare agency had removed the children from that residence.
After posting bond for the state charges, Bateman was arrested by federal authorities in Colorado City Tuesday, Schneider said, as they investigated whether children were being transported across state lines for sexual purposes. Bateman faces up to 20 years in prison on each federal charge if convicted.
Earlier this year, Bateman pleaded not guilty to three counts of child abuse in an Arizona state court.
The lawyer for Bateman cautioned against making assumptions about the case being about religious persecution. Zickerman did not mention Bateman’s faith or if he is a polygamist.
According to Schneider, Bateman had relationships with multiple women, but he did not mention whether Bateman belonged to polygamous groups.
While the case moves forward in the courts, U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille Bibles ordered Bateman to remain behind bars. Bateman is a pilot and outdoorsman with associates who can help with financial or other resources at a moment’s notice. She said she is concerned about vulnerable girls.
“Courts have a tremendous interest in protecting people who can’t protect themselves,” she said.
There is a patchwork of polygamous FLDS members, ex-church members, and people who don’t practice the beliefs living in Colorado City, where Bateman listed his mailing address. In recent years, Colorado City and its sister city Hildale, Utah, have experienced significant cultural changes.
Jeffs, the FLDS leader, imprisoned for child abuse related to underage marriage, has lost much of his control over the community.
Although polygamy originated from Latter-day Saint teachings, it was abandoned in 1890 by the mainstream church.
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