11/14/09 – ADG: Alamo, 75, gets 175 years. Evangelist ‘wed’ girls young as 8

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
November 14, 2009
By Andy Davis

Alamo, 75, gets 175 years
Evangelist ‘wed’ girls young as 8

Alamo being led from the courthouse after being sentenced to 175 years

Alamo being led from the courthouse after being sentenced to 175 years

A judge Friday sentenced evangelist Tony Alamo to 175 years in prison, saying it was “hard to imagine” the damage inflicted on the young girls the preacher took as “wives” and kept under his strict control.

“Mr. Alamo, one day you will face a higher and greater judge than me,” U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes said as Alamo, wearing a jail issued olive uniform and blue jacket, stood with one of his attorneys before a packed courtroom gallery in the federal courthouse in Texarkana. “May he have mercy on your soul.”

Alamo, the 75-year old leader of a multistate ministry with headquarters in southwest Arkansas,was convicted by a jury in July of 10 counts of taking underage girls across state lines for sex in violation of the federal Mann Act. At his trial, the five victims, now ages 18 to 31, testified that Alamo had taken them as his “wives” at ages as young as 8 and sexually abused them at his house at the ministry’s compound in Fouke, about 15 miles south of Texarkana.

Before Barnes announced Alamo’s sentence Friday, three of the victims read statements to Alamo expressing their anger at the effect he had on their lives.

“Finally, Tony Alamo has to sit there and listen to what I have to say without being able to hit me and shut me up,” said the oldest victim, who said she was 15 when Alamo took her as his bride. “You tried very hard to strip the very life out of all of us.”

Another victim, who said she exchanged vows with Alamo at age 8, said she wants to become an FBI agent so she can “put perverted sick people” in prison.

“You have deceived many people, but little did you know there were a few who knew you were full of it, who knew that you were mentally insane, and most of all that you were sick and perverted,” said the woman, now 18. “You used to tell us that we would never be anything, but you were wrong.”

Alamo’s attorneys, who said their client maintains his innocence, pleaded for mercy, eliciting testimony from a doctor who said Alamo suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and that the stress of being in prison would exacerbate his health problems. Longtime ministry members Greg Seago and Bert Krantz, who live at the Fouke compound, testified that Alamo had changed their lives for the better and helped needy people around the world.

“If he hadn’t taken a bold stand and been a shining light in a world of darkness, I’d be lost,” Seago said.

During cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner pointed out that one of Seago’s daughters, who is 15, had been living at Alamo’s house in Fouke until federal and state authorities raided it in September 2008. Another daughter, who Seago said lived at a house next door, left the ministry before the raid.

When Barnes asked Alamo if he was satisfied with his attorneys, Alamo said he was, then added, “I felt like there should have been more cross examination of my witnesses, because I didn’t get a real chance to explain to them how the people who were just going against me were lying.”

Defense attorney Don Ervin of Houston said he would appeal the sentence, which he described as too harsh, as well as the verdict.

“To take someone like him, who’s done so much good in his life, and make him die in prison – I just don’t think that punishment is called for,” Ervin said. Little Rock attorney John Wesley Hall Jr., who at one point was fired as Alamo’s defense attorney, said Friday that he had been hired back and is assisting with the appeal.

The 10 counts in the indictment referred to trips the girls took at Alamo’s direction from March 1994 through October 2005. In setting Alamo’s sentence, Barnes ordered Alamo to serve the maximum amount of time on each count – which varied depending on when the offense occurred – ranging from 10 to 30 years. He said the sentence was the one recommended by federal guidelines, taking into account factors such as the defendant’s criminal history and the severity of the offense.

The judge ordered the sentences to be served consecutively, and federal prisoners must serve 80 percent of their sentences before they can be released.

Asked if he wanted to say anything before the sentence was imposed, Alamo rose quickly to his feet.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” Alamo said. “I’m glad I’m me and not the deceived people in the world.”

Along with the prison sentence, Barnes fined Alamo $250,000 and set a hearing for Jan. 13 to determine how much restitution he should pay to the victims. According to court documents, a forensic pediatrician has calculated “health-care cost” incurred by each victim at almost $2.8 million. Alamo’s attorneys said they will contest the figure.

Watching as Alamo was sentenced were current and former ministry members, residents of Fouke, and several members of a group known as Bikers Against Child Abuse.

As Alamo was escorted from the courthouse, Fouke residents and at least one former ministry member held signs with messages such as “You reaped what you sowed,” and “Thank you, Special Agent Randall Harris,” referring to the FBI’s lead investigator in the case.

Asked by a reporter what it’s like to be known as a “sexual deviant,” Alamo compared himself to Jesus. “He was falsely accused also,” Alamo said.

Prosecutors said Alamo would be jailed in the Bowie County Correctional Center in Texarkana, Texas, until the restitution hearing in January, after which he will be transferred to a federal prison.

Harris said he had spoken with the victims after the verdict, and they told him they were pleased.

“Some of them expressed to me in the early stages that they never thought they would ever see this day,” he said.

Known throughout the nation for its religious pamphlets left on car windshields, the ministry’s message is a mix of fire-and-brimstone Christianity and rage against what Alamo sees as a Catholic conspiracy responsible for everything from World War II to the U.S.terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Alamo founded the ministry with his then-wife Susan in Hollywood, Calif., in the late 1960s. The ministry later expanded to Arkansas and Nashville, Tenn., attracting hundreds of followers who worked in ministry-owned businesses, including one that designed and manufactured a line of elaborately decorated denim jackets worn by celebrities such as singer Dolly Parton and actor Mr. T.

After Susan Alamo died in 1982, Alamo kept her body in a sealed casket at the ministry compound at Dyer, along U.S. 64 in Crawford County, while church members prayed for her resurrection. In the years that followed, the church suffered a number of setbacks, including the loss of its tax exempt status in 1985 and the seizure of church property to settle tax debts and a civil judgment in the early 1990s.

After a 1991 raid on the Dyer compound, Susan Alamo’s daughter, Christhiaon Coie, won a legal battle for her mother’s body. Before she could collect it, ministry members spirited it away from a mausoleum at the compound and hid it for seven years. The body eventually was interred.

In 1994, Alamo was convicted of a felony for filing a false federal income-tax return, along with three misdemeanors for failing to file a return, and was sentenced to six years in prison. He served four years and was released in 1998.

By then, prosecutors say, Alamo had taken a number of “wives,” including one who said she was 15 when she exchanged vows with Alamo in 1994. Other victims said they were taken as wives at ages 14, 11 and 8.

Former ministry members had spoken with Arkansas State Police investigators as early as 2001, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the first victim named in the indictment stepped forward, the FBI’s Harris said.

That victim testified that in 2006, when she was 15, she slipped out of Alamo’s house at the compound in Fouke and made her way to a Dollar General Store. She later moved in with her aunt in Florida, where she contacted the FBI in March 2007.

“She’s to be credited for a lot of this,” Harris said.

The other accusers who testified also left the church in 2006 or 2007.

While Alamo’s attorneys continually questioned the amount of time it took the government to build its case, Harris said, “Quite honestly, the breaks in this case didn’t really begin to occur until about April or May of ’08.”

“The truth of the matter is that we took action within a matter of just a few months after we got the information necessary,” he said.

The investigation led to a Sept. 20, 2008, raid on Alamo’s compound in Fouke by more than 100 police officers and child-welfare caseworkers. Alamo was arrested five days later at a resort hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Although Alamo will be in prison, authorities expect him to continue giving orders, as he did during his prison stint in the 1990s, and will take steps to ensure that he does not “continue committing crimes,” Jenner, the assistant U.S. attorney, said in July when Alamo was found guilty. She said authorities will closely monitor his communication with his followers.

Jenner said federal authorities will also work with state police and state prosecutors to file charges against church members who were complicit in the victims’ abuses.

“This investigation is not over,” Jenner said.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

| Back to Top |
Want to help?

Click the button!

Post A Comment

Please note: All comments are moderated. There is no need to resubmit your comment. Please submit a well thought out post with proper punctuation and spelling, so that it can be reviewed and posted promptly (as space allows).

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.