FLDS sect leader pleads not guilty on tampering charges; young girls removed during Colorado City raid

St. George News [St. George, UT]

September 15, 2022

By Cody Blowers

The leader of a sect of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints based in Colorado City, Arizona, made an appearance in federal court Thursday following his arrest on tampering and destruction of evidence charges.

The arrest of Samuel Rappylee Bateman, 46, of Colorado City, came weeks before, authorities said, when Bateman was stopped on a highway in Flagstaff, Arizona, where several young girls were found in an enclosed trailer. After Bateman was released on bail, he was arrested again during an FBI raid Tuesday in Colorado City that turned up additional evidence, prosecutors said, and an Arizona child welfare agency removed children from the homes.

Bateman pleaded not guilty in U.S. Magistrate Court in Flagstaff on Thursday.

Bateman has been indicted on three federal charges, including tampering and destruction of records in an official proceeding, along with one count each destroying records in a federal investigation, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, Arizona, on Thursday.

Federal prosecutors allege that Bateman destroyed records by either deleting the records himself, or by aiding others to delete electronic communications associated with a number of Signal accounts, which is an encrypted, private messaging and voice service provider.

The indictment further alleges the defendant did so in order to obstruct and impede the investigation that began weeks before, when Bateman was stopped along Interstate 17 on Aug. 28, by an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper who found young girls in an enclosed trailer.

The children were discovered by the trooper after someone spotted small fingers in a gap of the trailer’s rear door. When the trailer was opened, authorities found three girls between the ages of 11 and 14 in the trailer that had a makeshift toilet, a couch, camping chairs and no ventilation, the documents state.

Federal prosecutor Patrick Schneider told the Associated Press that Bateman, while in custody at the Coconino County Jail, talked to supporters in Colorado City, which borders Hildale in the Short Creek area, and instructed them to delete communications sent through a private messaging system. He also demanded that all women and girls obtain passports.

Bateman posted bail and was released shortly after the arrest in August, but was then arrested by FBI agents serving a search warrant at Bateman’s home in Colorado City, which is when the children were removed from the home by the state’s child welfare agency.

Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesperson Raul Garcia Jr., was unable to comment on the case and told St. George News in an email Thursday that the investigation was turned over to the FBI.

Kevin Smith, FBI spokesperson out of the Phoenix field office, would only confirm that the FBI arrested the suspect on Tuesday, “as part of our activity in Colorado City that day,” he said.

Much of the indictment remains sealed, according to an order signed by District Magistrate Judge John Z. Boyle, citing the documents contain information on an underage child.

During Bateman’s initial appearance in U.S. Magistrate Court in Flagstaff on Thursday, and based on the court’s ruling that Bateman poses a flight risk and a danger, he was ordered to remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. The case was also scheduled for a jury trial that will take place in Phoenix on Nov. 8.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille Bibles noted Bateman is a pilot and survivalist who has followers and international contacts who might help with financial or other resources on a moment’s notice. She said she also was concerned about young girls in vulnerable positions.

“Courts have a tremendous interest in protecting people who can’t protect themselves,” she said.

Bateman was a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, until he left in recent years and started his own small offshoot group, said Sam Brower, who has spent years investigating the group. Bateman was once among the trusted followers of imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs, but Jeffs recently denounced Bateman in a written revelation sent to his followers from prison, Brower said.

Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex abuse related to underage marriages.

Bateman’s group still practices plural marriage with a small following of fewer than 100 people, estimated Brower, who wrote a book on the FLDS and appeared in the recent Netflix series, “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.”

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

St. George News reporter Nick Yamashita and Felicia Fonseca with the Associated Press contributed to this story.