Polygamist leader Samuel Bateman used prison phones for explicit talk with young girls

A judge has now limited communications for the self-proclaimed prophet who faces both state and federal charges, including for kidnapping and child abuse.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Girls huddle together before being removed from the home of Samuel Bateman by the Arizona Department of Child Safety, in Colorado City, Ariz., on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. The self-proclaimed leader of a new polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border has used prison phones to talk sexually with underage girls.

After he was arrested late last year, the self-proclaimed leader of a new polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border was ordered not to contact some of the underage girls he has claimed as wives.

But from behind bars, Samuel Bateman found workarounds and furtively used prison phones to have explicit conversations with the teens anyway — even as the girls were in state protective custody.

That disclosure, based on recordings, comes from federal court records filed earlier this month by U.S. attorneys who sought to limit Bateman’s communication privileges. A judge signed an order last week further restricting Bateman to in-person visits only from his three sons or his attorneys. He can communicate in writing with anyone, except his alleged victims and co-defendants, but he can no longer make phone calls.

Officials said they discovered the explicit conversations last year, but the calls were disclosed publicly only recently, as part of the debate over further restricting Bateman’s communications.

Bateman, 46, is the leader of a small offshoot of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with followers mainly residing in the sister cities of Hildale in Utah and Colorado City in Arizona, known collectively as Short Creek.

Historically, the place has been a refuge for those who broke off from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known informally as the Mormon church. Those who moved to the towns wanted to continue practicing polygamy after faith leaders had agreed to end plural marriages in 1890.

Once a secluded community, the area has grown more secular in recent years following the incarceration of famed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of sexually assaulting girls he had married. Bateman had been telling residents there that Jeffs died in prison — which is not true — and that he is the successor. Since 2019, Bateman has amassed roughly 50 followers who call themselves “Samuelites.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Samuel Bateman leaves the courthouse during the trial of Warren Jeffs in St. George on Nov. 20, 2007. Bateman was present as an observer and supporter of Jeffs.

He was first arrested in Arizona in August during a traffic stop when officers discovered Bateman was towing a box trailer with three young girls inside. He faces state-level child abuse charges for that.

Shortly after, his homes were raided by the FBI in September, as federal agents served a search warrant detailing that they were looking for evidence of underage marriages or sexual contact between adults and children. Several young girls were removed from the properties and placed in state custody.

He hasn’t been charged with sexual abuse. But he also faces federal charges for allegedly instructing his followers from jail to delete the messaging app Signal from his phone after he was arrested.

At that point, he was transferred to the Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex, a federal prison run by the private company CoreCivic. He also has been charged with using phones there to instruct his adult wives to remove his child brides from the homes they had been places in by the Arizona Department of Child Services.

According to officers, three of his adult wives succeeded in collecting eight of the nine girls on Nov. 27; law enforcement later found them in Spokane on Dec. 1. The three wives and Bateman were then charged with kidnapping.

Before the girls were removed from the homes, though, U.S. attorneys say, Bateman was able to reach three of them by phone and had sexual discussions with them. He did so, according to the court filings, by calling his adult wives who then patched the girls through, which violates not only the order for him not to speak to the girls but also prison rules not to allow third parties on phone calls.

He spoke to one 13-year-old girl, in custody of the Department of Child Services, and called her his “sexy darling,” a filing said, adding that he wanted to have sex with her. He also asked: “Don’t you remember all those sacred times we spent together?”

Later, he spoke to a 16-year-old girl and repeated some of the same things, telling her he loved her and calling her by his last name. The following day, he spoke to another 16-year-old girl with the same message.

The U.S. attorneys write that Bateman was expressly prohibited from talking to the 13-year-old, who was one of the young girls found in his trailer. She was later allegedly kidnapped by the adult wives on Nov. 27.

Following that, U.S. attorneys restricted Bateman from contacting any of the minors he considered his brides. That was upheld by the judge.

Communications in the prison are randomly monitored, though all calls are recorded. Ryan Gustin, a spokesperson for CoreCivic, said when staff were reviewing the video calls, they came across Bateman’s explicit communications with the girls from Nov. 26 and 27.

“[We] immediately notified our government partners and local law enforcement, which resulted in the subsequent investigation and criminal charges being levied against this individual,” Gustin said, referring to the kidnapping charges.

Gustin said inmates only have access to video calls on facility-provided tablets during set hours.

The U.S. attorneys handling the case declined to comment, as did the Arizona Department of Child Services, which cited privacy rules. Bateman’s lawyers also declined to respond to questions from The Salt Lake Tribune about the calls. But they filed several requests with the judge opposing the requested limits on Bateman’s communications, saying he has a First Amendment right to free speech and due process.

So far, Bateman has pleaded not guilty to the federal kidnapping and tampering charges. A trial has been postponed until 2024. Prosecutors have said they are likely to file additional charges in the next three months, according to The Associated Press.

Court records have detailed that Bateman claimed 20 wives, nine of whom are minors between the ages of 12 and 16.

Some of the records that the FBI has used to build a case against Bateman came from a Colorado City woman, Christine Marie, and her husband, Tolga Katas. They assist members of the polygamy community and had been working on a documentary in the area.

They are identified in court documents by initials but are widely known in Short Creek, and did not object to the publication of their names. In one of Bateman’s communications from jail, according to prosecutors, he directed some of his wives to send threatening messages to Marie and Katas and wished there was “cancer already forming in their bodies.”

In their appeal, the U.S. attorneys argued: “Suspension of Bateman’s communication was — and continues to be — a rational, proportional response to prevent Bateman from endangering minors, committing new crimes, and continuing to tamper with evidence and witnesses.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Three of seven underaged girls cling to each other before being removed from the home of Samuel Bateman, following his arrest in Colorado City, Ariz., on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

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