January 28, 2009
BY CHARLIE FRAGO
A state Board of Health with clearly defined subpoena powers might have been able to investigate an illegal mattress-selling operation connected to jailed minister Tony Alamo, an agency attorney told a state House of Representatives panel Tuesday.
“We could not use subpoena power to go after them or their employees or parishioners. They had stolen thousands of mattresses, and we could not get any information about that,” said Robert Brech, general counsel for the Department of Health, testifying to the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
According to a federal lawsuit filed in early 2007 in U.S District Court in the Western District of Arkansas, Tempur-Pedic International Inc. donated nearly 8,000 mattresses to help victims of Hurricane Katrina between November 2005 to October 2006 to a Florida charity.
The mattresses had a retail value of over $15 million, the lawsuit says.
Soon after, Tempur-Pedic officials learned that those mattresses were being sold for drastically reduced prices out of the back of trucks in Tennessee and in other places.
The company traced 2,650 of the originally donated mattresses to a warehouse in Booneville connected to Tony Alamo Ministries, the lawsuit says.
Defense attorneys said the warehouse had the mattresses, but that the tags had been removed and the mattresses were noted as used. At no time were they marketed as Tempur-Pedic mattresses, according to the response.
The property is owned by two individuals whose mailing address is registered to a supermarket owned by Tony Alamo Ministries, the suit states.
The lawsuit was stayed in September because one of the companies involved has declared bankruptcy, according to a court order.
Brech said that the board wanted to subpoena warehouse employees to find out if they were illegally replacing the mattress tags in violation of state law.
“The tags were being taken off and being altered,” Brech said. “They were taking Tempur-Pedic off and putting new labels on.”
The complaint listed no involvement by Alamo himself.
Alamo, 74, is being held in a Texarkana jail awaiting trial on charges that he transported five underage girls across state lines for sex over the past 15 years.
Alamo has served four years in prison on tax-evasion conviction. He was released in 1998.