Flagstaff, Ariz. (AP) – The leader of a small polygamous group near the Arizona-Utah border took at least 20 wives, most of them minors, and punished followers who did not consider him prophetic, new federal court filings show. document display.

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. According to an FBI affidavit, she was supported financially by male followers who abandoned their wives and children to become Bateman’s wives.

The document filed on Friday provides new details about what investigators have found in the case that first became public in August. It involved the kidnapping of three of Bateman’s wives—Naomi Bistline, Donna Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson—and alleged obstruction of possible prosecution.

Bistline and Barlow are scheduled to appear in federal magistrate court in Flagstaff on Wednesday. Johnson is awaiting extradition from Washington state.

The women are accused of fleeing with eight of Bateman’s children, who were placed in Arizona state custody earlier this year. The children were found hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in Spokane, Washington, last week.

Bateman was arrested in August after someone noticed tiny fingers in the gaps of a trailer being pulled through Flagstaff. He posted bond but was arrested again and charged with obstruction of justice in a federal investigation into whether children were being transported beyond state lines for sexual activity.

Court records allege Bateman, 46, engaged in child sex trafficking and polygamy, but none of his current charges are related to those charges. Polygamy is illegal in Arizona but was decriminalized in Utah in 2020.

Darren Daronko, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Child Services, and Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the FBI, declined to comment on the case Tuesday. Bestline’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment, and Barlow’s attorney declined to comment. Johnson did not have a publicly listed attorney.

The FBI affidavit filed in the women’s case focuses largely on Bateman, who declared himself a prophet in 2019. Bateman says he was told by former FLDS leader Warren Jeffs to invoke “the Spirit of God upon these people”. The affidavit details the explicit sexual acts that Bateman and his followers engaged in to fulfill “divine duties”.

Jeff is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sexual abuse related to marriage at an early age.

Criminal defense attorney Michael Piccarreta, who represented Jeffs on the Arizona charges that were dismissed, said the state was trying to take a stand against polygamy by alleging relatively minor crimes to build up larger cases. Has a history of

“Whether this is the same strategy that has been used in the past or whether there is more to the story, only time will tell,” he said.

The office of Adam Zikerman, Bateman’s attorney in the federal case, declined to comment Tuesday.

Bateman lived in Colorado City among devout members of the polygamous FLDS, former members of the church, and non-practitioners of the faith. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream church abandoned the practice in the 1890s and has now strictly prohibited it.

Bateman frequently visited Nebraska where some of his other followers lived and traveled internationally to Canada and Mexico for conferences.

Authorities said when Bateman was arrested earlier this year, he instructed his followers to obtain passports and delete messages sent through encrypted systems.

According to the FBI affidavit, he demanded that his followers publicly confess to any indiscretions, and shared those confessions widely. The affidavit states that he claimed the punishment, which came from God in public shaming and timing of sexual activity.

The children were identified by their initials in court documents, but they did not tell authorities. A police report said three children found in the trailer Bateman was dragging through Flagstaff — which had a makeshift toilet, a couch, camping chairs and no ventilation — told officers they had no health concerns. or medical need.

According to an FBI affidavit, none of the girls held in state custody in Arizona disclosed sexual abuse by Bateman during forensic interviews, although one said she was present during the sexual activity. But the girls often wrote in journals that were confiscated by the FBI. In them, several girls recount intimate conversations with Bateman. Authorities believe the older girls influenced the younger children not to talk about Bateman, the FBI said.

Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this story.

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