Colorado City Man and 10 Members of Polygamist Sect Charged With Illicit Sexual Conduct With Minors, and Related Crimes

Samuel Rappylee Bateman, 47, of Colorado City, Arizona, along with 10 of his followers, were indicted on May 18, 2023, by a federal grand jury on charges relating to a years-long conspiracy to travel across state lines in order to amass “wives” for Bateman, including minor girls. The grand jury returned a Second Superseding Indictment, which was recently unsealed, in the case of United States of America v. Samuel Rappylee Bateman.

The Second Superseding Indictment alleges that Bateman, the self-proclaimed leader of a polygamist sect in Colorado City, Arizona, began amassing “wives” from among his followers in several states. In order to claim these “wives”—10 of whom were under the age of 18—Bateman travelled extensively between Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. Throughout the conspiracy, Bateman had sex with the minor girls on a regular basis.

Bateman was previously charged federally by Indictment in September 2022 with destruction of records in an official proceeding, tampering with an official proceeding, and destruction of records in a federal investigation.

A First Superseding Indictment was returned by the federal grand jury in December 2022, adding charges against Bateman and adding three co-conspirators—Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow, and Moretta Rose Johnson—on charges of tampering with an official proceeding and conspiracy to tamper with an official proceeding, as well as kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Among other things, all of these defendants were charged with unlawfully removing minors from the custody of the Arizona Department of Child Safety and fleeing across state lines in order to evade law enforcement. The most serious of these charges, the kidnapping counts, are punishable by up to life in prison.

The Second Superseding Indictment unsealed Wednesday realleges these prior crimes and includes additional charges against Bateman. Among other things, Bateman is charged with conspiracy to transport a minor for criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to travel across state lines to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor, using a means of interstate commerce to persuade or coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity, and interstate travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. The Second Superseding Indictment further alleges that a number of Bateman’s followers participated in several of these alleged crimes as co-conspirators, including defendants Josephine Barlow Bistline, Leia Bistline, Torrance Bistline, LaDell Bistline, Jr., Leilani Bistline, and Brenda Barlow.

The Second Superseding Indictment also charges Bateman with production of child pornography. It alleges that in late November 2020, Bateman coordinated group sexual activity in a hotel room in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with some of his followers, including minor girls. Bateman is alleged to have then coordinated a video call to a follower in Colorado City, Arizona, in which the video participants, including a minor, were naked. Production of child pornography carries a maximum term of 30 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 15 years in prison.

The Second Superseding Indictment also charges defendant LaDell Bistline, Jr. with receiving child pornography, while a number of the defendants, including Bateman, Josephine Barlow Bistline, LaDell Bistline, Jr., Brenda Barlow, and Marona Johnson are charged with distributing obscene material to a minor.

Finally, the Second Superseding Indictment includes charges for obstructive conduct lasting into at least March 2023. Bateman is charged with witness tampering, while Josephine Barlow Bistline is charged with attempted obstruction of a criminal prosecution, making interstate threats, and cyberstalking arising out of threatening conduct toward employees of the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

The status of the co-conspirators/defendants charged in the Second Superseding Indictment is as follows:

  • Bateman remains in federal custody pending trial. He, along with defendants Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow, and Moretta Rose Johnson, who are also in federal custody, will have initial appearances and be arraigned on Friday, May 26, at 11:45 a.m. in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Josephine Barlow Bistline had an initial appearance Monday in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona. She also is currently detained pending trial.
  • Leilani (Bistline) Barlow had an initial appearance this morning in federal court in Flagstaff, Arizona, during which she clarified that she is a Barlow and not a Bistline. She is temporarily detained pending a detention hearing on May 30, which also will be in federal court in Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • LaDell Bistline, Jr., Torrance Bistline, Brenda Barlow, Leia Bistline, and Marona Johnson, were all arrested earlier this week. They will have initial appearances tomorrow, May 25, in federal court in St. George, Utah.

The Phoenix Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is handling the investigation. The United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, Phoenix, is handling the prosecution. The United States Attorney’s Office continues to extend special gratitude to the Arizona Department of Child Safety for its work protecting Arizona children impacted by this matter, as well as the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah; the Colorado City Police Department; the Iron County (Utah) Sheriff’s Office; the Washington County (Utah) Attorney’s Office; the Washington County (Utah) Sheriff’s Office; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations in St. George, Utah; the U.S. Marshals Service in St. George, Utah; and the St. George Resident Agency of the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office for their assistance in this matter.