A 46-year-old man who reportedly left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to start his own small polygamous group stands accused of hauling young girls in an enclosed trailer and tampering with evidence.
Court documents obtained by The Associated Press allege that in late August, someone noticed fingers in a gap of a trailer’s rear door. Authorities reportedly searched the trailer and found three girls between the ages of 11 and 14.
The trailer was being hauled by Samuel Bateman, The Associated Press reports. Inside the trailer, there was allegedly a makeshift toilet, a couch, camping chairs, and no ventilation. Bateman was reportedly arrested as a result.
The court documents did not specify whether the girls were related to Bateman.
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, Bateman also allegedly “destroyed or attempted to destroy records, by deleting or aiding and abetting others to delete, electronic communications associated with Signal accounts.” Signal is reportedly an encrypted messaging application.
Bateman had reportedly pleaded not guilty to the charges this week, and he had previously pleaded not guilty to three counts of child abuse in an Arizona state court.
From prison, Bateman allegedly told his supporters in Colorado City, Arizona, to delete any messages or communications, and he told the women and girls to get passports.
The children from Bateman’s home in Colorado City were reportedly removed by the state child welfare agency.
According to The Associated Press, Bateman was bonded out of jail and arrested again earlier this week.
On Thursday, Sept. 15, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Bateman destroyed and tampered with evidence to “obstruct, influence, and impede” the investigation in federal court.
An indictment was reportedly returned by a federal grand jury on Sept. 6. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Bateman was charged with 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.
If convicted, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says each crime is punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
According to reports, Bateman used to be one of Warren Jeffs’ followers, but Jeffs denounced Bateman in a written statement to his supporters from prison. It is believed that Bateman’s new group has fewer than 100 followers.
Polygamy is part of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the church today has reportedly prohibited it.
Reports show that Bateman is a pilot and survivalist with followers and international contacts who could possibly help him financially, and he will remain behind bars until the case makes its way through the courts.