FLDS polygamist leader faces new charges of kidnapping minors

Self-proclaimed prophet and polygamist leader Samuel Rappylee Bateman's legal troubles snowballed Thursday as three women charged with kidnapping eight minors were folded into his federal court case and new charges were added.

Bateman, who was facing three charges of destruction of evidence after his federal arrest in September, will now also face two charges of obstruction of justice, one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to kidnap, according to a new indictment filed in federal court.

According to the FBI and U.S. prosecutors, Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow, both 24, and Moretta Johnson, 19, were working under Bateman's direction to remove eight girls from Arizona Department of Child Safety's custody on Nov. 27.

The three women also will face charges of kidnapping and obstruction of justice alongside the 46-year-old Bateman.

Child welfare services removed nine girls from Bateman's property in Colorado City, Arizona, in September when the FBI arrested Bateman on suspicion of tampering with evidence. Just after Thanksgiving, eight girls fled from group homes in the Valley and made it to Spokane, Washington, where the FBI had tracked them. One remained behind.

After a grand jury issued an indictment in the case, Bistline and Barlow were arraigned Thursday morning in federal magistrate court in Flagstaff. Their trials will be merged with Bateman's, and they will soon be transferred to a facility in the Valley to be closer to the Phoenix federal courthouse.

The women will most likely be appointed new lawyers ahead of the beginning of the trial, which is set for Jan. 10. Defense motions are due by Jan. 5.

Bateman was initially arrested by Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers on Aug. 28 on three counts of child abuse after a patrol officer saw a child's hand sticking out of a horse trailer being pulled by Bateman's truck in Flagstaff. The trooper found three girls, ages 9 to 13, and reported that Bateman gave them a bucket to use as a toilet, according to the criminal complaint against him.

According to an FBI statement in court, while Bateman was in Flagstaff jail, he told his followers to delete information from the Signal app that the group used to communicate.

In an affidavit filed in court on Dec. 1, the FBI accused Bateman of sexually abusing minors and using the Signal app to stream sexual acts to his followers.

Those records describe how Bateman, acting as the leader of a splinter sect of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, used his position to order orgies involving some of the girls, which he would call "atonement" ceremonies. The Colorado City-based FLDS is a splinter sect of the Mormon church, which no longer condones polygamy.

The FBI raided three properties associated with Bateman in Colorado City on Sept. 13 while executing a search warrant. Agents arrested Bateman on suspicion of tampering with evidence, while nine girls were taken into state custody and placed into group homes.

According to the federal prosecutors, eight of the nine girls were abducted from the group homes by Bistline, Barlow, and Johnson on Nov. 27.

In the federal indictment, Bistline and Barlow were accused of working together to pick up three of the girls, while Johnson was accused of picking up the other five.

From Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex, Bateman video-called Barlow and Bistline the night of Nov. 27 to confirm which of the girls they had picked up, according to the indictment.

The next morning, he called Bistline, and she told him that they had gotten eight girls in total, but one was missing. Bistline told Bateman that they had tried to get the last girl, but they "ran for their lives after police were called," the indictment read.

In another video call, Bateman got in touch with Johnson, who was in a hotel room with a baby, and she told him, "We are helping you," according to the federal prosecutors.

Johnson and the eight girls made it to a Spokane Airbnb rental paid for by Bateman's followers. A Spokane County sheriff's sergeant knocked on her door on Dec. 1, but Johnson tried to drive off with the eight girls but was stopped, federal prosecutors said.

Bistline and Barlow's whereabouts were unclear during this time.

Johnson was arrested Dec. 1 and held on one count of obstruction of justice and one count of kidnapping. She has been held in Spokane pending her initial appearance scheduled for Dec. 16.

Bistline and Barlow were arrested on Dec. 2 and have appeared separately in federal court in the weeks since, speaking only through their attorneys.

Barlow's defense attorney in Flagstaff, Roberta McVickers, presented her client's actions as those of a naive mother who was just trying to help family members who she believed were in trouble.

In contrast, Bistline's defense attorney, Daniel Kaiser, argued that his client was a victim of severe abuse and brainwashing by Bateman.

Bateman, through his attorney, has denied all of the previous allegations against him, claiming he is the target of religious persecution by federal authorities. In court filings on Thursday, Bateman petitioned the U.S. District Court to change attorneys.

A handful of family and friends of Bistline and Barlow have been in the courtroom for each hearing so far, some adorned in traditional dress with long hair held back in a braid. Both defendants and their supporters have remained largely expressionless throughout the proceedings, even as prosecutors described some of Bateman's alleged abuse.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: FLDS polygamist leader faces new charges of kidnapping in Arizona