PHOENIX (AP) — A woman believed to be one of the 20 wives of a polygamous sect leader jailed in Arizona faces federal charges for allegedly sending threatening emails to child welfare workers in a bid to get her two daughters released from state foster care.
The indictment of Josephine Barlow Bistline marks the fourth woman associated with self-declared prophet Samuel Bateman to face federal charges. Three of Bateman’s wives were previously charged with kidnapping and impeding a foreseeable prosecution after eight girls associated with the sect fled from foster care.
Authorities say Bistline told a case manager with the Arizona Department of Child Safety in a March 24 email that she would be sent to prison, where she would live on a ventilator and people would have to help her breathe and clean up after her.
According to a criminal complaint filed against her, Bistline told the case manager: “And, you know, I wouldn’t mind helping with that too. Because I love you. But you have gone too far.”
Bistline has pleaded not guilty to charges of cyberstalking and interstate communications involving a threat. A judge ordered that she be jailed until trial. She was charged in late March.
Mark Paige, an attorney representing Bistline, did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
Bateman and his followers practice polygamy, a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The mainstream faith, known widely as the Mormon church, abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.
Bateman, 46, lived in Colorado City, Arizona, an isolated community along the Utah border where polygamy was long practiced openly.
He was first arrested in August when someone spotted small fingers in the gap of a trailer he was hauling through Flagstaff, Arizona. Police found three girls, between 11 and 14, in a makeshift room in the unventilated trailer.
Bateman posted bond but was arrested again in September and charged with obstructing justice in a federal investigation into whether children were being transported across state lines for sexual activity.
He is alleged to have taken more than 20 wives, including underage girls, though he does not face any charges directly related to that accusation.
Bateman has pleaded not guilty to federal and state charges including child abuse, obstructing a federal investigation and aiding in kidnapping.
Authorities removed nine children from Bateman’s home and placed them in foster care.
But eight of the children later escaped, and the FBI alleged that the three wives played a part in getting them out of Arizona. The women have pleaded not guilty.
The girls — two of whom are Bistline’s daughters — were found hundreds of miles away in Spokane, Washington. They remain in foster care.
In another email, Bistline declared that Bateman was innocent and said a case worker was siding with Judas Iscariot, the biblical figure known for betraying Jesus Christ and later killing himself.
According to the criminal complaint, Bistline wrote, “You will be among them, unless you repent, and confess you have done the wrong dam (sic) thing, and fix it.” Bistline’s trial is scheduled for May 23, 2024. Bateman and his three wives are scheduled for trial on March 5, 2024.