A polygamous leader accused of takingincluding underage girls, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to kidnapping and tampering with evidence stemming from a federal investigation into his community on the Utah-Arizona border.
is the latest example of law enforcement taking action against abuse in the sister cities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, longtime strongholds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Saints. Last Days, known by its acronym FLDS. They are a polygamous offshoot of the traditional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which no longer practices polygamy.
Bateman pleaded not guilty during a hearing in a federal courtroom in Phoenix, according to court documents. A trial has been set for January 10, but his lawyers have asked for more time to prepare.
The community was once dominated by the polygamous group but has transformed since its leader,was sentenced to life in prison more than a decade ago on child sexual abuse charges related to underage marriages.
Bateman, 46, is a former follower of Jeffs who broke away from the FLDS church with a few dozen followers after molding himself into a prophet and successor to Jeffs. From prison, Jeffs turned in Bateman, said Sam Brower, an investigator who has spent years tracking the group,
Bateman faces a series of state and federal charges, including child abuse, obstructing a federal investigation and — along with several female followers — helping to kidnap girls from the boy’s foster home. state they were placed in after his arrest earlier this year.
Although federal charges to date have been limited to tampering with and destroying evidence and aiding in the abduction of girls, court documents in the cases of Bateman and his supporters describe a thorough investigation revealing allegations that Bateman orchestrated sex acts involving minors and gave wives as gifts to his male followers – claiming to do so on orders from the “Heavenly Father”.
They said he used public shaming and sex to punish followers – and at one point tried to take a wife, his only daughter, who then left with her mother when Bateman started taking more women.
Earlier this month, federal authoritiesthree of his wives of kidnapping and obstructing foreseeable prosecution.
Authorities said after his first arrest, he told his followers to obtain passports and delete messages sent through an encrypted messaging app.
“Bateman did so for the purpose of obstructing, influencing and obstructing an investigation and prosecution in federal court,” federal prosecutors said when the indictment was announced in September. . He was charged with destroying records or attempting to destroy records in an official proceeding; tampering or attempting to tamper with official process; and the destruction of records in a federal investigation.
Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the traditional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the faith widely known as the Mormon Church abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly forbids it.