Former leader of religious sect charged with child sex crimes

MANTI, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – They were pedophiles disguised as religious leaders. That’s how Spring City’s police chief described Samuel Shaffer and John Coltharp.

Wednesday, Shaffer was charged with additional crimes related to a child kidnapping in December. Coltharp is facing similar charges as well.

The Sanpete County attorney filed two counts of sodomy of a child, lewdness with a child and obstruction of justice against Shaffer.

“What we really have, is we have a couple of child sex predators, pedophiles that are wrapping everything up in the name of religion to justify their actions,” said Police Chief Clarke Christensen.

Christensen has been the primary investigator in the case that has not only shaken this small Sanpete County but the allegations have reached a national audience as well.

Both men claim to be leaders in a self-proclaimed religious group called the Knights of the Crystal Blade. Coltharp is the alleged leader while Shaffer is second in command.

Their religious beliefs unraveled when the two men were accused of kidnapping their own children. It violated a divorce decree. An amber alert was issued and two of the children were found in storage containers in Iron County.

According to Christensen, the large containers acted as a home for Coltharp, Shaffer, the children and grandparents.

Christensen also said Coltharp’s parents and Shaffer’s father are currently under investigation for obstruction of justice. Coltharp’s father told News4Utah that he and his wife went with their son and children willingly last September.

Keith Coltharp said they pitched tents in various mountain locations in Iron County. He said at first they believed in their son’s religious teachings but then “he went on the dark side,” the father said.

Coltharp said he and his wife were threatened with “death” if they went to police. The police chief said the grandparents could still face charges.

“At the end I think they were captive,” said Christensen. “They didn't have a choice. A t the beginning they were aiding and complicit.”

Wednesday, John Coltharp was in a Sanpete County courtroom but his hearing was postponed. His attorney objected to the high bail set at $50,000 cash only but the judge refused to hear the objection.

Afterwards defense attorney Paul Frischknecht admitted jail maybe the best place for his client. “He is a person not concerned about his incarceration as most people would be,” said Frischknecht.

Coltharp will remain in the Sanpete County jail until his preliminary hearing next month. Shaffer who is in the Iron County jail where he is facing child kidnapping charges will be transported to Sanpete County to face the new charges.

 

If you suspect child abuse or neglect is occurring, call the Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline 855.323.3237.
The toll-free Statewide 24-hour Sexual Violence Crisis and Information Hotline is 1-888-421-1100. Click here for a list of Rape Crisis Resources in Utah.

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