Samuel Rappylee Bateman -- | Booking Photo
Samuel Rappylee Bateman -- | Booking Photo

Fourteen years after state and local law enforcement officers raided the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, a Colorado City, Arizona man has been arrested and charged with trafficking underage girls.

Samuel Rappylee Bateman, 46, was arrested in Flagstaff, Arizona on August 28th after witnesses there reported seeing a cargo trailer “full of people, including children.”

The case is eerily similar to the events that played out at the YFZ Ranch here in Schleicher County beginning in late 2003. Eventually, 11 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), including its prophet, Warren Steed Jeffs, were convicted of charges ranging from bigamy and destruction of evidence to sexual assault of a child. In some of those cases, underage girls were reportedly trafficked to and from church enclaves across the country inside cargo trailers.

Bateman was one of Jeffs’ loyal followers, but is said to have fallen from favor, leading to his expulsion from the church.

It is unclear if Bateman began recruiting his own followers before or after he was expelled, but by the time he was stopped near Flagstaff, he had reportedly declared himself to be a prophet of God.

Bateman’s legal troubles began when he stopped to fuel up his SUV at 76 gas station/convenience store on U.S. Highway 89 in Flagstaff. A tip from concerned citizens resulted in an Arizona DPS trooper locating Bateman’s GMC Denali just a few miles away on Interstate 40. That’s when the trooper noticed “children’s small fingers moving in the gap of the rear trailer door.” The officer turned on his lights and siren and pulled Bateman over.

Bateman was traveling with two women and two girls under the age of 15 in the SUV. Inside the trailer, however, the trooper found three girls between the ages of 11 and 14. They had a couch, camp chairs and a homemade toilet crafted from a bucket, trash bag and a toilet seat.

Investigators did not say if any of the children were related to Bateman, but they were concerned for the safety of the three girls in the trailer due to hot weather and the fact that the trailer had no air vents. They also noted that the trailer doors were locked from the outside.

Detectives noted that only the older of the two women in the SUV would speak to them. They also reported finding a box of ammunition in the SUV’s center console.

Bateman was arrested and charged in Arizona state court with three counts of child abuse. Then, earlier this month, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts of destroying or attempting to destroy records and tampering with criminal proceedings. He pleaded not guilty in U.S. Magistrate Court in Flagstaff on Thursday, September 15th.

Federal authorities are also looking into whether Bateman transported children across state lines for sexual activity.

Federal prosecutor Patrick Schneider said that Bateman talked to supporters in Colorado City, Arizona, from the Coconino County Jail in Flagstaff at which time he directed them to delete communications sent through an encrypted private messaging system. He also ordered all women and girls to obtain passports.

Arizona child welfare authorities have removed the children from Bateman’s home in Colorado City, Arizona where FBI agents had recently served a search warrant.

Bateman faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each federal charge if convicted. He previously pleaded not guilty to the three counts of child abuse in an Arizona state court.

Bateman is being held without bail on the federal charges after U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille Bibles found he was a flight risk. She noted that Bateman is a pilot and a survivalist who has followers and international contacts who could help with financial or other resources “at a moment’s notice.”

The judge ordered that the identity of the young girls be shielded because of their “vulnerable positions” and said that the court has an interest in protecting people who can’t help themselves.

The parallels to the Schleicher County cases are striking. Ultimately, a total of 11 men were convicted of felonies related to the YFZ Ranch, but only three of them remain behind bars in 2022.

Abram Harker Jeffs was convicted on June 22, 2010 and sentenced to 17 years in prison for sexual assault of a child. He remains behind bars in the George Beto Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at Tennessee Colony in East Texas. His release is projected for June 20, 2027.

Merril Leroy Jessop was convicted on March 17, 2010 of first degree sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 75 years in prison. He is incarcerated at the Wynn Unit at Huntsville and isn’t slated for release until March 5, 2085.

FLDS Prophet Warren Steed Jeffs was convicted on August 9, 2011 one count of sexual assault of a child and another count of first degree sexual assault of a child. One of his victims was 14-years-old. The other was only 12. Jeffs was sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison and remains behind bars at the Poweledge Unit near Palestine, Texas. He has no projected release date.

Retired Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, who was actively involved in the YFZ Ranch raid, and the investigations that followed, told The Success on Monday that Bateman’s story sounds familiar. “Too familiar,” he added. “Underage girls traveling in cargo trailers. I’m glad that chapter of my life is over and I hope for all our sakes that this case doesn’t find its way to our county.”