The number of jailed Tony Alamo Christian Ministries followers rose last week when authorities in California jailed a man on a 20-year-old warrant alleging child abuse.
Officials with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office believe Douglas James Christopher’s real name is Allen Matthew Rehn, media spokeswoman Jane Robison said. The 55-year-old, who has longstanding ties to Alamo, turned himself in last week at a courthouse in Santa Clarita, Calif.
Christopher is charged with two counts of felony child abuse and his bail has been set at $100,000, Robison said.
He, Alamo and four other men were charged in connection with the January 1988 beating of Justin Miller. Justin lived on ministry property in Santa Clarita with his parents and siblings. His uncle and a cousin also lived on church property.
His father and uncle had left the church when the beating occurred. Justin, his siblings and his cousin were removed several months after the beating and reunited with their fathers, according to court documents and earlier news reports.
The ministry has reportedly owned properties in the Saugus community of Santa Clarita for many years.
“I remember being part of the team that executed a very extensive and well-planned search warrant. I was a new detective then,” said Sgt. Dan Scott of the Los Angeles County Special Victim’s Bureau. “There were over 20 deputies that searched the premises of a large compound. It was a major tactical event. I believe we recovered the paddle.”
Although the criminal charges against Alamo were eventually dropped, a federal judge in the Western District of Arkansas awarded the boy and his family more than a $1 million for their suffering.
“… Mr. Alamo put on ‘public exhibitions of corporal punishment, in the form of paddling, upon minor children’; and the proof amply showed that Justin Miller, while being restrained by four adult men, was struck vigorously 140 times with a large wooden paddle by a grown man … this punishment was inflicted in a room filled with adults and children and was not only painful (Justin’s buttocks were bleeding) but humiliating in the extreme. One of the adult witnesses, indeed one of the principal participants, was Justin’s mother,” wrote then U.S. District Judge Morris Arnold, who awarded damages to the family. “No feeling person could fail to be moved by the testimony in this case or to be revolted by the cold-blooded and calculated manner in which the punishment of Justin Miller was carried out.”
Christopher was one of the four men alleged to have held one of Justin’s limbs while his body was suspended spread eagle in the air, according to earlier news reports.
Christopher is scheduled to appear in court Friday for a preliminary hearing in California. A judge will determine if enough probable cause exists to hold him until trial, Robison said.
Officials in California do not know why Christopher elected to turn himself in after so many years. However, removal orders signed by judges in Miller and Sebastian counties in Arkansas for the children of Alamo followers name Christopher’s children who are now in state care. They were among six who share the same mother that were found in Indiana in early December. The father of the other three children is Anthony Lane, a former follower who said he has searched for his children for more than 10 years.
Lane is allowed one hour of supervised visitation with them a week. Final custody hearings for all six kids are scheduled for Jan. 30 before Sebastian County Circuit Judge Mark Hewett, the same day Christopher will appear for his preliminary hearing in California.
Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, was accused of directing the beating via telephone. For several years he evaded authorities until he was apprehended in Florida in 1991.
Alamo is jailed in downtown Texarkana awaiting a May trial on a 10-count federal indictment alleging the transport of minor females across state lines for sex.
Robison said the DA’s Office in LA County is still in the process of retrieving records pertaining to the case against Christopher that predate electronic data storage.
“We’re still conducting research,” Robison said.
Records that have been retrieved show that Marc Stuart Landgarten was charged, but that his case has been completed, Robison said. The exact disposition of Landgarten’s case is still being investigated, said Robison, who also confirmed that Terry Farr, 56, and Kerry Yunkin, 55, faced charges at one time. Farr allegedly administered the blows with a long wooden paddle while Christopher, Landgarten, Yunkin and one other held Justin’s hands and feet.
Although news reports from 1988 name another follower, Robison said his involvement could not be confirmed until more documents are located.
Meanwhile, three parents whose children were among 23 for whom Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin held custody hearings earlier this month, remain in jail for contempt of court.
Two of the parents, a 54-year-old Texarkana father and a 35-year-old Fouke mother with children in foster care, refused to divulge the whereabouts of their other children named on the November removal orders. Their missing kids are among roughly 90 the state hasn’t been able to locate.
Griffin ordered the third parent, a Texarkana mother, locked up when she refused to answer questions about photos of ministry children placed on the Internet. She is the same mother who allowed a video of her 16-year-old daughter being interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center in Texarkana to be placed on the Internet.
“What I told them in court was that I wasn’t going to call their cases once a week. During the hearings they had daily contact with the court and chose not to purge their contempt,” Griffin said. “I told them, ‘The burden is now on you to let the court know through either a direct request through the jail or through an attorney.’ If they do that, I’ll set them for an immediate hearing.”
If authorities had their way, at least one other church member would be in custody. State and federal warrants exist for John Erwin Kolbek. He is accused of administering “corrections” with a long wooden paddle.
The 49-year-old is wanted in Sebastian County for second-degree battery and federal authorities have charged the fugitive with unlawful flight from prosecution.