11:33 AM PST, December 5, 2022
Polygamous cult leader Samuel Bateman has been accused of having 20 wives, most of them under the age of 15, according to newly filed federal court documents, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The affidavit alleges the FBI has probable cause to believe the alleged illicit sexual conduct occurred between May 2020 and November 2021, the report said.
Bateman is a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, and left in recent years and to start his own group with about 50 followers, authorities said.
The affidavit was filed Friday in federal court in Washington, where eight girls were found Thursday after they disappeared from Arizona Department of Child Safety custody, the outlet reported. The girls, believed to be the underage wives of Bateman, were removed from Bateman’s Arizona homes in September when federal officers raided the houses looking for evidence of underage marriages, authorities said.
An adult wife of Bateman was arrested Thursday by a Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy who found the girls outside an Airbnb in Spokane, authorities said. Moretta Rose Johnson, 19, was taken into custody and is accused of kidnapping in a federal complaint, The Tribune said.
Bateman has been in and out of jail since Aug. 28, when he was pulled over after Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers noticed a small hand protruding from a wooden horse trailer he was pulling through Flagstaff, officials said.
Authorities said they found three girls between the ages of 11 and 14 inside the unventilated trailer, along with a makeshift toilet and camping chairs.
He posted bail a few days later on child endangerment charges in Coconino County, but was arrested again on Sept. 13 by FBI agents. Federal prosecutors charged Bateman with destruction of evidence, and Samuel Bateman faces federal charges of destroying records and tampering with an official proceeding after he allegedly told followers to delete incriminating evidence, authorities said.
Bateman has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
He has not been charged with sexual abuse or trafficking.