Prosecutors widen child sex abuse case in polygamous sect

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This undated photo provided by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office shows Samuel Bateman. Prosecutors have widened their case against the leader of a small polygamous group that resides near the Utah-Arizona border, adding child pornography charges and detailing his sexual encounters with children he took as wives in new charges filed earlier in May 2023. (Coconino County Sheriff's Department via AP, File)

Prosecutors have widened their case against members of a small polygamous group that resides near the Utah-Arizona border, detailing its leader’s sexual encounters with children he took as wives in new charges filed earlier this month.

A grand jury accuses Sam Bateman of recording the child sex abuse in a superseding indictment filed recently and adds new counts to charges filed last year for kidnapping and impeding an investigation. The May 18 document provides new details about how Bateman — with the help of followers — took wives as young as 9 years old and created a sprawling network spanning at least four states as he attempted to start an offshoot group of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

A call to one of Bateman’s lawyers seeking comment about the case wasn’t immediately returned Thursday.

The FLDS is itself a breakaway sect of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints historically based in the border towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. The sect is known because its leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence in federal prison in Texas. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream church, widely known as Mormon, but it abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.

The indictment adds to a raft of charges filed against Bateman last year in state and federal courts. In December, federal prosecutors charged Bateman and several of his wives with kidnapping minors and impeding a foreseeable prosecution for helping young girls associated with the group flee Arizona foster care. An FBI affidavit published in December as part of the case claimed Bateman took more than 20 wives, including 10 girls under the age of 18. Though it detailed him engaging minors in sexual activity, the latest indictment expands on the allegations and is the first to charge him for such acts.

It says Bateman traveled extensively between Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska and allegedly had sex with the minor girls on a regular basis. It also charges Bateman with recording some of the sexual activity, alleging some images may have been transmitted across state lines via electronic devices.

Relying on journals, day planners, and text messages, it says Bateman initiated sexual encounters with groups of followers in hotel rooms, including one that began with a religious rite-inspired “washing of the feet.” He traded wives back and forth with male followers.

The indictment also alleges Bateman “encouraged the minors to participate in the sexual activity and trained them to do so,” including with girls so young that he once became upset when one wet the bed. He told girls 10 and younger, “You belong to me,” and one who the indictment describes as nine or 10 years old described the sexual encounters as “definitely terrifying.”

The indictment also claims several followers — men and women — denied the allegations of abuse, including of their own children, when interviewed by the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

Bateman was arrested last year and remains in federal custody pending his trial, which is scheduled for March 5, 2024. He previously has pleaded not guilty to state and federal charges accusing him of kidnapping, child abuse, and tampering with evidence.

Bateman is scheduled to appear in court on Friday in Phoenix.

Republished with the permission of The Associated Press.