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Polygamous leader in Arizona had more than 20 ‘wives,’ including children, feds say

A “self-proclaimed prophet” had more than 20 wives, including minors, and said it was the “Heavenly Father’s will” he participate in sex acts with them, according to an FBI affidavit.

Samuel Rappylee Bateman, of Colorado City, Arizona, said it was the will of God to encourage his followers, “including the minor children, to engage in sexual acts,” according to the affidavit filed Friday in federal court in the Eastern District of Washington.

Bateman was the leader of a branch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the affidavit said.

The affidavit was filed one day after authorities tracked down eight girls — who had been under Bateman’s care but were placed in state custody in Arizona — to an Airbnb in Washington state. The girls had escaped from their group homes in Arizona, the affidavit said.

On Sept. 14, nine girls were taken into custody with the Arizona Department of Child Services, according to the affidavit. None of them “disclosed actual sexual abuse by Bateman, but at least one admitted being present and partially nude” for sex orgies, the affidavit said.

Eight of the nine girls on Nov. 27 ran away from group homes where they were in state custody, according to the affidavit.

On Thursday, a sergeant with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spotted a vehicle driven by one of Bateman’s wives in which all eight of the missing girls were passengers, the affidavit said.

The affidavit named Bateman’s wife as a defendant in the ongoing criminal case for kidnapping and obstruction.

Bateman has not been charged with sex crimes, although the affidavit said there is probable cause he participated in sexual activity with minors who were transported between Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Nebraska in 2020 and 2021.

Lawyers for Bateman could not be immediately reached Tuesday.

A defendant named in the affidavit became one of Bateman’s wives when she was under 18. She gave birth seven months after she turned 18, the affidavit said. She is accused of kidnapping and obstruction along with two other women, the affidavit said.

In 2019, Bateman began to proclaim he was a prophet translated from Warren Jeffs, who Bateman and his followers referred to as “Uncle Warren,” the affidavit said.

In 2019, Bateman was married to one woman and had a daughter who had been born in 2005, the affidavit said.

The woman left Bateman and that’s when he began accumulating wives, the affidavit said.

Some of the information provided to an FBI agent in the affidavit came from two people, a woman who Bateman believed was trying to help members of his group, and her husband, who was filming a documentary.

In December 2020, Bateman drove to the couple’s home in Colorado City “in a large SUV packed with women and girls. Bateman introduced everyone as his wives,” the affidavit said. The youngest of the girls was born in 2011, according to the affidavit.

A minor related to Bateman was interviewed on video in December 2020, according to the affidavit. A review of the video determined Bateman asked the minor if she prayed about who she was going to marry. The girl responded she hadn’t because she was too young. Bateman then told her, the affidavit said, he “felt like she was his wife.”

The girl also told investigators Bateman had hugged and kissed her and one of the kisses was a “nasty kiss” she described as “slobbery.”

The affidavit said investigators had also secured other evidence in the form of journals from some of Bateman’s wives, according to the FBI agent who wrote the affidavit.

“I have reviewed a number of the journals seized during the search warrants, and there are details referenced by several of the girls about sleeping with Bateman, kissing him, and touching him,” the affidavit said.

Bateman was 46 in September when he was arrested following a separate indictment on charges of destroying records in a federal investigation.

The federal charges allege destruction of records or an attempt to destroy records in an official proceeding; tampering or attempting to tamper with an official proceeding; and destruction of records in a federal investigation, authorities have said.

That indictment alleges that on Aug. 28, Bateman destroyed or attempted to destroy records, by deleting or aiding and abetting others to delete, electronic communications associated with Signal accounts, prosecutors said. Signal is an encrypted messaging application. The indictment also alleged that Bateman did so in order to obstruct, influence, and impede an investigation and prosecution in federal court.

Bateman was using Signal to communicate with his wives and followers, prosecutors said.Bateman has pleaded not guilty.

Donna Mendell contributed.