MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – Preacher Tony Alamo whose church once ran businesses worth millions of dollars drew a maximum sentence Friday of six years in prison on an income tax conviction. He was also fined $210,000.
Alamo, 59, was convicted in June of understating his income in 1985 and failing to file tax returns from 1986 through 1988.
Prosecutor Christopher Belcher said businesses run by the Holy Alamo Christian Church took in some $9 million over the four years covered by Alamo’s indictment.
Alamo lived lavishly while many of his followers worked for church businesses for subsistence wages or no pay at all, Belcher said.
Alamo argued the businesses, which ranged from an Arkansas hog farm to a fancy clothing store in Nashville, supplied money he needed to spread the Gospel and feed and clothe his followers.
He claimed he drew no salary but was supported by the church as its spiritual leader.
Alamo also claimed he was the victim of a government conspiracy aimed at destroying all churches.
“I’m fighting for the freedom of religion,” he said.
Alamo, who changed his name from Bernie Lazar Hoffman, built his church from a street ministry he and his now deceased wife, Susan, formed in California in the 1970s.
The church businesses primarily operated in California, Tennessee, and Arkansas, where Alamo and his followers maintained a compound near Alma.
The church is currently headquartered in Canyon Country, Calif., near Los Angeles.
During Alamo’s trial, the government accused him of controlling the private lives of his followers and sexually preying on teen-age girls in the church.
An Internal Revenue Service investigator said Alamo has married eight of his followers since early last year, including two young women 15 years old.
“Produce a marriage license, just one, and I’ll eat it without salt and pepper,” Alamo said in a rambling statement prior to sentencing by U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla.
Lawyer Susan James, who took over Alamo’s defense after the trial, said the conviction and sentences will be appealed.