FLAGSTAFF – A polygamous gang leader from Colorado City, a city on the Arizona-Utah border, pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges of tampering with evidence after he was arrested Aug. 28 on Interstate 40 in the Flagstaff, Arizona area with three girls, 11-14 years old in a trailer.
Samuel Bateman, 46, was charged earlier this month with three counts of destroying or attempting to destroy records and tampering with criminal proceedings, according to court documents. He pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Flagstaff, where he was arrested in late August by a state trooper after reports that someone saw small fingers in a gap in the trailer’s back door.
Court documents also detailed that Bateman was driving a gray GMC Denali with a wooden trailer whose doors were locked. Four women, two over 18 and two under 15, were traveling in the car, and three girls aged between 11 and 14 were traveling in the trailer.
Bateman was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, until he left that church and started his own group, said Sam Brower, who has spent years researching the group.
Bateman’s group still practices polygamy with a small following of less than 100 people, according to Brower, who has written a book about the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and appeared in the Netflix series, Be Sweet: Pray submit and obey” “.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider said Bateman spoke to supporters in Colorado City, Arizona from the Coconino County Jail in Flagstaff, ordering them to delete communications sent through an encrypted private messaging system and demanding that all women and girls receive passports.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
- Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainline church abandoned the practice in the 1890s and now strictly forbids it.
- U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider cited a preliminary report that mentioned Bateman had relationships with multiple women, but also did not mention whether Bateman belonged to polygamous groups.
- Bateman gave a mailing address in Colorado City, where a number of believing polygamous FLDS members, ex-church members and non-practicing members of the faith live. Both Colorado City and its sister community of Hilldale, Utah have undergone significant cultural changes in recent years.
Darren DaRonco, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Child Safety, declined to comment Thursday, citing an impediment due to privacy laws. Phoenix FBI spokesman Kevin Smith said in an email that the search warrant was sealed.
Bateman posted bond on state charges. He was arrested again Tuesday in Colorado City by federal authorities investigating whether children were transported across state lines for sexual activity, Schneider said. If convicted, Bateman faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each federal charge.
Bateman previously pleaded not guilty to three counts of child abuse in Arizona state court, court documents show.
Federal Judge Camille Bibles ordered Bateman to remain behind bars while the case moves through the courts. He noted that Bateman is a pilot, prepared for the worst and has international supporters and contacts who could help them with financial or other resources at any time. She said she was also concerned about young women in vulnerable positions.
Bateman’s attorney, Adam Zickerman, cautioned against concluding that the federal case is about religious persecution, though he did not specify Bateman’s faith or whether he practiced polygamy. Zickerman said Bateman is not a danger to the public.