Polygamous cult leader Sam Bateman, a self-proclaimed prophet who was awaiting trial on kidnapping and other charges, now faces his first charges accusing him of sexually abusing children.
In June 2021, Bateman took Jane Doe 10, one of his anonymous victims, for a ride to a creek, and as “recorded” by the girl, they “worshiped our God in an unexpressable way” and had “holy sex,” according to the new indictment. She was between 14 and 15 years old at the time, prosecutors say.
The pedophile also took part in “group sexual activity” with at least four anonymous victims — identified only as Jane Doe 3, Jane Doe 4, Jane Doe 7, and Jane Doe 10 — along with his co-defendants Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow, and Leia Bistline, who were also his wives and followers.
The illicit encounters took place on at least two occasions — Jan. 1, 2021, and Aug. 27, 2022 — in Colorado City, Arizona, prosecutors say.
The massive indictment against Bateman and his followers lists 11 defendants facing a cumulative 56 charges. Bateman himself faces dozens of charges, a conviction on even one of which could put him behind bars for 30 years. His victims are as young as 9.
‘Impressions of Heavenly Father’s will’
Federal prosecutors have long said that Bateman engaged in sexual conduct with minors, some of whom he called his “wives.” Court papers also have described him as engaged in “sexual discussions” with them during recorded conversations on jailhouse phones.
Until recently, his criminal charges stopped short of charging those crimes directly. First, prosecutors charged Bateman with the destruction of records in an official proceeding, tampering with an official proceeding, and destruction of records. Then, they added kidnapping and conspiracy counts. The new indictment, announced on Wednesday by the Justice Department but filed on May 18, 2023, greatly ratchets up Bateman’s criminal exposure by charging those crimes.
In 2019, Bateman declared himself a prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a sect whose adherents practice polygamy. The government estimates that Bateman has roughly 50 followers and more than 20 wives, at least 10 of whom are minors between the ages of 12 and 16.
“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,” prosecutors wrote on March 3. “Bateman is a subject in a federal investigation into the transportation of minors in interstate commerce to engage in criminal sexual activity, and travel in interstate commerce to engage in illicit sexual conduct with minors, beginning around May 2020.”
‘Coordinated group sexual activity’
The accused cult leader is now charged with producing child sexual abuse material, conspiring to transport a minor for criminal sexual activity, conspiring to travel across state lines to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor, using a means of interstate commerce to persuade or coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity and interstate travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor.
In late November 2020, Bateman “coordinated group sexual activity” in a hotel room in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with some of his followers, including minor girls, prosecutors say. Some of those involved participated via a video call.
In the hotel room, the wife of one of Bateman’s followers “taught Jane Doe 3 and defendants Naomi Bistline and Moretta Rose Johnson (then age 17) to ‘bless’ defendant Samuel Rappylee Bateman and prepare him for sex,” according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say that Bateman coordinated a video call to a follower in that city, and the participants were naked, including a minor. The charge of producing child pornography carries a maximum term of 30 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum 15-year term.
Though the statutory language refers to “child pornography,” victims’ advocates opt for the phrase child sexual abuse material to emphasize the crime and the harm.
In August 2022, Bateman was pulled over during a traffic stop, and investigators found three young girls between the ages of 11 and 14, makeshift seats and a Porta-Potty.
After he was released on bond the following month, Bateman had “sex with Jane Doe 5 (then age 15) in front of Jane Doe 10 (then age 15),” and “this was the first time Jane Doe 10 saw defendant Bateman use a condom,” according to the indictment.
Read the indictment here.