9/20/09 – TG: Year after Alamo raid, questions remain ***COMMENTS***

Texarkana Gazette
September 20, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Year after Alamo raid, questions remain

One year ago today, the FBI and Arkansas State Police descended on Tony Alamo Christian Ministries properties in Fouke, Ark., searching for evidence of child pornography.

It was Alamo’s 74th birthday.

Today, on his 75th birthday, the self-proclaimed prophet occupies a cramped cell in the administrative segregation wing of the Bowie County Correctional Center in downtown Texarkana.

He’s watched 24 hours a day.

“I guess they think I’m the most dangerous man in the world,” Alamo said in an interview with the Texarkana Gazette the week after he was convicted of bringing young girls he’d “married” across state lines for sex.

Following his sentencing, which is set for Oct. 23, Alamo will be moved to a federal prison.

Where he will be housed is up to the discretion of officials with the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Following his conviction for tax evasion in 1994, Alamo maintained control of his ministry from within the confines of prison.

While an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, Alamo exchanged wedding vows with one of the women who testified against him in July at his criminal trial.

She said the other “wives” would encircle Alamo, blocking him from the view of cameras in the visitation room, while he touched and fondled his visitors.

In front of the downtown federal building in Texarkana shortly after U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes read the jury’s verdict, guilty of all 10 counts, prosecutors addressed a crowd of media and interested members of the public.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kyra Jenner, Clay Fowlkes and Candace Taylor said Alamo is not likely to see the outside of a prison again.

Four of the counts are punishable by up to 10 years, three others by up to 15 and three more by as many as 30 years. If sentenced to the maximum on each count and ordered to serve the terms consecutively, Alamo could receive 175 years.

Prosecutors will make a recommendation for punishment based on established federal sentencing guidelines and the defense will be permitted to object. However, Barnes has the final say regarding the convicted child abuser’s fate.

If Alamo appeals, higher courts will review the trial transcript, Barnes’ rulings and applicable law to determine if Alamo was treated fairly.

The involvement of authorities in the ministry’s activities has had an impact on all associated with the group. Experts say the ministry exhibits “cultic” characteristics.

The ministry founded in 1969 by Alamo, whose given name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, and Susan Alamo, who was born Edith Opal Horn, has 40 years later become a national curiosity. Many of the trailers and houses where members once lived are vacant. Followers with children fled when news of the mass removal orders for children of Alamo devotees spread.

The church is suing the Arkansas Department of Human Services. It complains the child welfare agency’s involvement has made it difficult to spread their message, feed the poor and bring new souls into the church. They also claim their civil rights are being trampled.

Arkansas state judges have ruled children can reunite with their parents only if the adults find housing and employment independent of the ministry.

Two fathers with kids in foster care who are plaintiffs, along with the ministry, in the civil suit against DHS, complain they will lose their salvation and spend eternity in hell if they aren’t allowed to devote all of their time to the ministry.

The saga of Alamo Ministries certainly won’t end with Alamo’s sentencing. The pending suit against DHS, the custody proceedings concerning the children and a civil suit seeking damages from Alamo and fugitive associate John Kolbek could linger in the courts for years.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals is already being asked to review the rulings of the trial court judges concerning custody.

And if Alamo appeals his conviction, the involvement of higher courts in the federal system will be required.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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One Post

  1. Jael Says:

    Thank you again, Lynn, for excellent reporting. It is clear you have listened with your heart and etched the details of the victim’s pain upon it. Though justice seems fleeting (we only truly retain a sense of peace for a day or two or a few weeks), for the sake of elevating humanity, crimes must have consequences and those crimes and consequences must be fairly reported to the public to deter future crimes.
    Thank you for your contribution to ending the cycle of abuse and pain.

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