7/12/09 – AP: Using Intimidation and Fear, Tony Alamo demanded sex

The Sentinel-Record – ARK
July 12, 2009
By: The Associated Press

Alamo trial to hinge on witness testimony

The young girls came by passenger van or bus to Tony Alamo’s compound in the southwest Arkansas town, past the guard shack and armed patrols to meet the aging evangelist at his personal command.

Federal prosecutors say the girls came for one reason – to have sex with Alamo when he demanded it through the intimidation and fear that permeates his secretive ministry.

Alamo will appear in federal court Monday for the start of a trial on charges he took young girls across state lines for sex – in violation of a nearly century-old morality law. He previously pleaded not guilty, denying the charges while at the same time saying the Bible described the age of consent as when young girls first reached puberty.

A guilty verdict on one charge from the 10-count indictment could place Alamo behind bars for the rest of his life. A federal judge sentenced him to six years in prison in 1994 for tax evasion, making him a candidate for harsher sentence. But Alamo previously beat a federal criminal indictment in 1991, something the flamboyant evangelist will hope to do again.

Arkansas State Police troopers and FBI agents investigated Alamo long before launching a Sept. 20 raid on his compound in Fouke, a town of 845 people near Arkansas’ border with Louisiana and Texas. Police descended on the 15-acre complex a day after a federal prosecutor accidentally sent an e-mail to reporters that detailed plans to have specialists on hand to help children who allegedly suffered sexual abuse at Alamo’s hand.

Initially, FBI agents looked for evidence Alamo produced child pornography at his ranch home on the compound. Agents seized a Polaroid camera and film during their search – a favorite of child pornographers as the film doesn’t require developing. However, the agents recovered no nude photographs, according to court filings.

Alamo, arrested Sept. 25 in Flagstaff, Ariz., instead faces charges that he violated the Mann Act, a federal law that bans carrying women or girls across state lines for “prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” The 1910 act gave federal authorities powers to prosecute vice crimes over fears about “white slavery” – that young women from rural areas moving to the city were being abducted by immigrants and forced into prostitution.

Over time, prosecutors used the act to ensnare the famous. Entertainer Charlie Chaplin, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, musician Chuck Berry and heavyweight champ Jack Johnson all were accused of violating the act; Berry and Johnson, a bareknuckle fighter who held the title from 1908 to 1915, served prison time over it.

The Mann Act came back into the news when New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer resigned over a call-girl scandal. Some of those involved in the incident face Mann Act violation charges, which can carry a 10-year prison sentence.

Using the Mann Act against Alamo allows prosecutors to skirt proving whether the sex actually occurred, said David Langham, a research professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law who studies the act’s history. In court documents, prosecutors have said they don’t plan to offer any forensic evidence at trial, meaning the case against Alamo largely will hinge on victim testimony.

“It’s not the kind of crime where there is DNA or blood. It’s usually testimony, often in the old days it was testimony of the woman herself,” Langham said. “Whether they had sex or not doesn’t matter. It was his intent.”

Alamo’s lawyers can argue that the evangelist didn’t intend to have sex with the young girls when they crossed state lines, but that could be a technicality lost on jurors, Langham said. A previous defense lawyer for Alamo said the evangelist’s defense would rely on questioning whether the 74-year-old was physically capable of taking part in a sex act. Defense lawyers likely also will try to prove the sex acts took place in spaces too constrained for Alamo to maneuver, such as showers and on a ministry bus.

Don Ervin, the Houston lawyer now leading Alamo’s defense team, declined to say whether he’d raise similar issues at trial. Court officials expect jury selection in Alamo’s case to end Tuesday, with opening arguments starting on Wednesday.

Alamo, whose ministry grew into a multimillion industry on the backs of his followers, was convicted of tax evasion charges during a 1994 federal trial. Alamo served four years in prison after the Internal Revenue Service said he owed the government $7.9 million.

However, Alamo previously beat another federal criminal charge. In 1991, a jury found Alamo innocent of charges accusing him of threatening a federal judge.

Prosecutors then claimed Alamo threatened to have then-U.S. District Judge Morris S. Arnold kidnapped to stand trial in front of the evangelist. A newspaper quoted Alamo as saying Arnold “should be hanged as a traitor.” Arnold handled an IRS case that stripped Alamo’s foundation of its tax-exempt status and sought $7.9 million in back taxes.

That case too hinged on testimony, with both the newspaper editor who quoted Alamo and the judge serving as star witnesses. This time, it will be from Alamo’s alleged victims who suffered abuse as far back as 15 years ago.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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