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The leader of a polygamous group who declared himself a prophet spent months in Lincoln taking several girls as wives and orchestrating illicit sex acts with minors, according to federal court documents.
Samuel R. Bateman was arrested in August on state child abuse charges and federal charges of tampering with evidence. He has pleaded not guilty ahead of a January trial and remains in custody in Arizona.
Newly filed federal court documents provide more insight into the case against Bateman, who allegedly took at least 20 wives, most of them minors, and punished followers who did not treat him as a prophet.
While the affidavit in Bateman’s case has been sealed, three of his supposed wives within the fundamentalist sect were arrested for kidnapping and impeding a prosecution related to Bateman’s case earlier this month.
The complaint against Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson sheds light on Bateman and his circle as they moved between Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Nebraska allegedly trafficking and engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors over a period of months.
Bateman, 46, proclaimed himself a prophet in 2019, claiming as the “Heavenly Father” he had been ordered to begin taking his followers’ wives and daughters as his own wives, or giving women — some underage — to other men as wives.
A former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, itself a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church, Bateman was at one time a close associate of Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas for child sex abuse related to underage marriages.
While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once allowed its adherents to practice polygamy, the mainstream Mormon Church abandoned the practice in 1890 and now prohibits it.
According to the FBI, Bateman used his position of leadership within his small sect that is concentrated in Colorado City, a town of roughly 2,500 people on the Arizona-Utah border, to reward or punish his followers by giving or taking away wives, at least one as young as 10 years old.
In the affidavit filed by the FBI, Bateman took the first of what would become more than 20 wives in May 2020 when he was living in Lincoln. Two women, described as the “young adult daughters” of one of his followers, eventually fathered his children.
Bateman later married the 10-year-old daughter of one of his closest followers, federal officials allege, as well as a 17-year-old, who would give birth to one of his children the following year, in 2021.
Along with claiming the minors as wives and transporting them between Lincoln and other states, Bateman also allegedly directed his followers to a Lincoln motel — the affidavit does not specify which — in November and December 2020 where the group engaged in group sex as part of a purported religious act.
At least two of the participants in the group sex were minors, including a 17-year-old and a 13-year old child, and Bateman is also accused of directing two of his followers to rape the girls “as an atonement for their wicked deeds,” according to the FBI affidavit.
Bateman was first arrested in August when someone spotted small fingers in the gap of a trailer he was hauling through Flagstaff. Police found three girls, between 11 and 14, in a makeshift room in the unventilated trailer.
The girls told authorities they didn’t have any health or medical needs, according to an Arizona Department of Public Safety report.
Bateman posted bond but was arrested again in September and charged with obstructing justice in a federal investigation into whether children were being transported across state lines for sexual activity. Authorities said that following his first arrest he instructed his followers to obtain passports and to delete messages sent through an encrypted messaging app.
At the time of the September arrest, authorities removed nine children from Bateman’s home in Colorado City and placed them in foster care.
None of the girls, identified by their initials in court documents, disclosed sexual abuse by Bateman during forensic interviews, though one said she was present during sexual activity, according to the FBI affidavit. But several of the girls wrote in journals that were seized by the FBI about intimate interactions with Bateman. Authorities believe the older girls influenced the younger ones not to talk about Bateman, the FBI said.
Eight of the children later escaped from foster care, and the FBI alleged Bistline, Barlow and Johnson — all relatives of the children as well as Bateman’s current or former wives — came to Arizona to pick them up. The girls were found last week, hundreds of miles away in Spokane, Washington, in a vehicle that Johnson was driving, the FBI affidavit said.
In court Wednesday, Barlow’s attorney said her client was only doing what she believed was right. The attorney, Roberta McVickers, added that Barlow would follow whatever orders the court issues.
Barlow has lived in Colorado City much of her life and has a 2-year-old with special needs, McVickers said in arguing for her to be released from custody. Barlow was educated at home through the seventh grade, and has no independent source of income and no criminal history, McVickers said.
“It’s an adjustment for her to learn whose rules to follow,” McVickers said.
Prosecutor Wayne Venhuizen noted Bistline and Barlow were communicating with Bateman about the children. “These women have proven that they will stop at nothing to interfere with a federal investigation and protect Bateman, who was sexually abusing children,” he said.
Ultimately, the federal judge overseeing the case ordered Barlow and Bistline, whose brief hearing focused on setting further court dates, to remain in custody. Johnson is awaiting extradition from Washington state.
Neither Bateman nor any of his followers identified in the federal court documents have been arrested or charged with a crime in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office and the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Sioux City Fire Rescue firefighters stand watch outside the Ida Apartments, 901 Pierce Street, Friday morning, Dec. 9, 2022. The apartment building caught on fire around 9 p.m. Thursday.
The Downtown Lincoln Association decorated the area with Christmas-themed icons like these frosted trees on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, for the Lincoln North Pole attraction at Tower Square. FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star
Lincoln Southwest’s Freddie Wallace (10) drives to the basket against Papio South’s Taylor Mauch (bottom right) and Eke Djibril (top right) on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at Lincoln Southwest High School. FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star
Fourth grader Marquavious Irving writes down a math formula, Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Kahoa Elementary School. JUSTIN WAN, Journal Star
Nebraska’s Ally Batenhorst (14) goes for a kill against Campbell in the first set during the first round of NCAA playoffs on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Devaney Sports Center. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
Charlie (10, left) and Will Simon (13) wave to Eric Fass from their car as they drive in the parade welcoming him home on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, on S. 26th Road. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
Cathy (left) and Mark Ebers pick a Christmas tree with Sam, their six-year-old Australian shepherd and cattle dog mix, from the few that remain unclaimed trees at Prior Pines on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at Prior Pines. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
Lincoln Pius X’s Joe Andreasen (left) grapples with Norris’ Cooper Spaulding in 170-pound match on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, during the Lincoln Pius X Invitational. FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star
Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins (26), Aly Batenhorst (14), Lexi Rodriguez (8) and Callie Schwarzenbach (25) greet the fans with a victory lap after defeating Florida State 3-0 on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, during the NCAA Second Round at Devaney Sports Center. FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star
Lincoln Stars’ Michael Mastrodomenico (4) eludes Tri-City’s Jeremy Wlimer (13) in the second period on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at the Ice Box. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
Brayden Burt (9) tees off from the ninth hole of the Scott Whitcomb Memorial Disc Golf Course as his father Kelsey watches on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, at Tierra Briarhurst Park. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
York’s Shaylynn Wahl bowls against Ogallala in the third game during the Class B championship match of State Unified Bowling on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, at Sun Valley Lanes & Games. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
Workers and volunteers pull the Christmas tree into Capitol on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. JUSTIN WAN, Journal Star
Empty office space in the Atrium building frames the Capitol. FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star
Model trains sit on their tracks on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, at Foley Sign Company. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
Lincoln Pius X’s Jack Hastreiter (32) drives the ball past Bellevue West’s Josiah Dotzler in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at Bellevue West High School. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
Nebraska’s Bella Cravens (14) leaps to deny Indiana State’s Tonysha Curry (24) a pass to teammate Mya Glanton (00) in the first half on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at Pinnacle Bank Arena. FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star
Lincoln East’s Jared Townsley (10) scores two around Kearney’s Parker Wise (11) in the fourth quarter on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, at Lincoln East High School. EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star
Lincoln Midwest Ballet Company dancer Grace Fry performs as the jester for Norwood Park Elementary School students in an abbreviated performance of “The Nutcracker” for the Backstage at the Ballet experience on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star
An 80,000-pound tractor tanker crashes into a 62″ concrete roadside barrier at 50 mph in a test of the barrier that is shorter and thinner than current standards on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, at Midwest Roadside Safety Facility. GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star
Wes Kembel (left) cleans up his home with the help from his friend Jordan Meals after a tornado passed through the day before on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. JUSTIN WAN, Journal Star
City workers remove a tree fallen on a car after a storm on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, at 13th and Pawnee Streets. JUSTIN WAN, Journal Star
Winds knocked over a hackberry tree in Antelope Park on Dec. 15.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or [email protected].
On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS
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