Girls rescued from polygamist cult found hiding in Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. — Eight girls who ran away from group homes in Arizona amid a federal investigation have been found hiding in an Airbnb in Spokane.

The girls were found with a woman named Moretta Rose Johnson, who is now charged with kidnapping in federal court.

The charges stem from the case against Samuel Bateman. Bateman was the leader of a polygamous cult on the Arizona-Utah line.

The group was a small offshoot of the FLDS cult, made infamous by the actions of its leader Warren Jeffs.

According to the Associated Press, Bateman was once one of Jeffs’ trusted supporters, but Jeffs reported him from jail.

Federal agents arrested him in mid-September when he was stopped on a highway with young girls in a locked trailer.

The trailer had a makeshift toilet, a couch, camp chairs, and no ventilation.

Arrest reveals disturbing allegations of abuse

Bateman’s arrest and subsequent investigation led to horrific allegations of sexual abuse.

According to federal court documents, Bateman and others sex trafficked young girls between Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Nebraska.

Federal agents describe Bateman as a “self-proclaimed prophet of the FLDS Church” with 50 followers and more than 20 wives, many under the age of 15.

Investigators first heard complaints in 2020 that Bateman was marrying young girls.

Complaints came from the grandparents of several of the young women Bateman had taken as wives.

Interviewed in November 2020, the parents of each of the children said they were fine with Bateman and no criminal charges were filed.

Court documents outline accusations that Bateman made sexual advances to his own daughter, first bribing her with two bags of Doritos and $50 and saying “if his feelings were right, he would do what a boy does for make [her] have a baby.”

Bateman’s daughter kept a diary with the dates Bateman introduced her to new wives, including what court documents describe as “young girls.”

In recent years, Bateman befriended a couple whom he allowed to record him and his wives as part of a documentary.

One such filmmaker came forward to law enforcement in 2021, claiming she had tapes of Bateman discussing “giving three wives” to his male supporters.

One of the filmmakers recorded a conversation with the wife of one of Bateman’s followers.

The woman says her daughter was 14 or 15 when she said she was afraid of getting pregnant because Bateman was having sex with her.

She also said Bateman pressured his followers to hand over their daughters to him.

Court documents describe a web of sexual behavior between Bateman and his male and female supporters, saying that on at least one occasion some of the young brides were in a hotel room and forced to watch.

The “Prophet” is arrested

On August 28, 2022, the Arizona Department of Public Safety arrested Bateman for child endangerment.

That day, Bateman called one of his male supporters from jail and told him to delete Bateman’s Signal account.

He also called his wives and asked them to do the same.

In the calls, recorded by the prison, the wives “sang to Bateman and told him they loved him and needed him”.

Federal agents say the wives also shredded documents believed to be the girls’ diaries.

Bateman has been charged with falsifying and destroying documents and is currently in federal custody in Arizona.

On September 14, nine underage women were taken into custody by the Arizona Department of Children’s Services.

None of the girls disclosed actual sexual abuse, “although at least one described being present and partially nude for the sex orgies described above”.

Federal agents seized some of the girls’ diaries, in which some detailed “sleeping with Bateman, kissing him and touching him.”

Officers believe the older girls trained the younger ones not to speak to Bateman’s investigators.

On the run

On November 27, eight of the nine girls ran away from the group homes.

Investigators found reports that they were still in group chat with some of the adult wives.

“There were newspaper references left behind saying ‘today is the day we go home,'” he says in the criminal complaint.

That night, Bateman made a recorded phone call from jail to two of his adult wives, who were driving together.

They say they have two daughters.

The next morning, he calls back and the women are in a hotel room. The camera pans and shows eight of the nine girls.

Through several phone calls recorded by federal agents, Bateman speaks to the women who say they are on the move and traveling in separate groups.

The FBI found a business card associated with VelociWrapper, a company run by one of Bateman’s supporters.

On November 28, the FBI requested an emergency disclosure from Airbnb to find the addresses reserved by this subscriber or any associated business accounts.

One of them came to Spokane.

On December 1, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office conducted a “knock and talk” at the request of the FBI.

No one answered the door, but the sergeant saw a vehicle drive away.

In the vehicle, Sgt. Satake found Moretta Rose Johnson and the eight missing girls.

Johnson is over 18 now, but married Bateman when she was underage.

She was incarcerated in Spokane County Jail on Thursday on an FBI hold.

She will be sent back to Arizona to face charges.

It is unclear what happened to the girls after Johnson’s arrest.

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