11/15/09 – TG: Alamo’s sentencing leaves concern over continuation of organization ***COMMENTS***

Texarkana Gazette
November 15, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Alamo’s sentencing leaves concern over continuation of organization

Observers outside Texarkana’s federal building expressed hope that Tony Alamo’s 175-year sentence will mean the end of his disgraced ministry.

“Praise God,” said a member of Bikers Against Child Abuse who waited for the news outside with a large group of his compatriots Friday. “Maybe this will put an end to this sham religion.”

But others worried the child sex abuser and controlling “world prophet” would continue to manage his organization from behind the confines of a federal prison as he did in the nineties as a tax evader.

“Will he be able to have phone calls and e-mail,” one area resident asked another as a cheerful group emerged from the courthouse.

Their curiosity about the future is grounded in the past.

When Alamo spent four years in federal prison from 1994 to 1998 he was able to give orders to his loyalists, sexually abuse and even “marry” a 14-year-old, without ever leaving custody.

In the visitation room of the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, Alamo’s “wives” would gather around him and bow their heads, blocking him from the view of guards and cameras. As they did, Alamo fondled, molested and spoke crudely, according to testimony in his July trial that ended with 10 felony child sex abuse convictions.

“Inmates must present phone and visitation lists for approval,” said Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Felicia Ponce. “The staff completes an investigation and determines if that’s an appropriate contact.”

Ponce said correspondence and phone calls are monitored and that disciplinary action can be taken if concerns about content or behavior during visits arise.

She said immediate family is typically permitted contact.

“That includes father, mother, sister, brother, children, spouse,” Ponce said.

Ponce said common-law husbands and wives are considered immediate family as well.

Ponce said the BOP doesn’t have a policy regarding inmates who might claim to have multiple spouses.

But Alamo’s lead prosecutor, Assistant United States Attorney Kyra Jenner, expressed confidence that the government’s prison officials will treat Alamo differently now.

“The Bureau of Prisons will look very closely at Mr. Alamo while he’s in prison to make sure there are no more victims,” Jenner said.

Jenner, along with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Clay Fowlkes and Candace Taylor managed the government’s prosecution of Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman.

“Given the evidence of crimes of sexual contact while a Bureau of Prisons inmate…they’ll be made well aware and hopefully make adjustments,” Jenner said.

Two members of Alamo’s defense team, Houston attorney Don Ervin and Florida attorney Phillip Kuhn, expressed confidence that Alamo’s reportedly absolute control over his devotees will cease.

Texarkana attorney Jeff Harrelson represented Alamo in his criminal trial as well and Little Rock attorney John Wesley Hall, Jr., has signed on to work Alamo’s appeal with Ervin.

Ervin and Kuhn said Alamo will have strict rules to follow concerning phone use and visitation.

Kuhn could argue in civil custody proceedings concerning the children of ministry loyalists taken by child welfare officials that a threat to the youth no longer exists now that Alamo is serving what amounts to a life sentence.

Since a raid of the property in Sept. 2008 by members of the FBI and Arkansas State Police 36 children have been taken into custody. Most remain in foster care.

Many of the children named on removal orders inked by circuit judges in Miller and Sebastian counties last November remain missing.

Judges have ruled that parents who desire reunification must find housing and employment independent of the controversial group and eradicate their financial dependence on Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.

Child welfare officials and court advocates have argued that Alamo’s ability to split families, order beatings and fasts and preference for underage girls puts all the children of followers at risk.

Bert Krantz, who has six young children in foster care, testified Friday at Alamo’s sentencing that he is a “volunteer” and “associate pastor” for Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.

“It’s in the Bible,” Krantz responded when Jenner asked him if he believed young girls should marry at puberty.

Krantz said he believes Alamo is a prophet but declined to respond to a query about his views on polygamy after an objection from Alamo’s defense team.

Krantz and another devotee who testified, Greg Seago, are suing the Arkansas Department of Human Services for what they allege are civil rights violations.

The communal living arrangements where food, clothing and shelter are provided allow them to serve God full time and a deprivation of that lifestyle amounts to a loss of salvation, their suit alleges.

One of Seago’s daughters, 15, was among six taken from Alamo’s house following the Sept. 20, 2008, raid. She remains in state custody and Seago has refused to comply with the court’s directives.

He remains an unemployed volunteer and resides on a cluster of properties in Fouke, Ark., held in the names of followers.

Alamo’s name doesn’t appear on deeds or bank records though witnesses testified he controls and manages those assets and a variety of businesses that keep the church’s coffers filled.

But if the government and private lawyers are able to seize those assets to pay court-ordered restitution and civil judgments in damage suits filed on behalf of former members who were abused, Krantz, Seago and others like them may find they no option but to enter the secular workforce.

Despite their protestations that God and Tony Alamo Christian Ministries provide for their every need, court documents show that many of the children of ministry members, including the six Krantz juveniles, were already on tax payer funded medicaid when the Fouke outpost was raided.

A hearing to address the matter of restitution for the five Jane Does who testified Alamo married them as young as 8 is set for January. A trial to address a civil suit alleging battery, outrage, and conspiracy filed by two men who were raised in the group is scheduled for trial in July and names Alamo as a defendant.

A $3 million judgment was handed down in Oct. for fugitive John Kolbek in the case. Kolbek allegedly beat followers with a board at Alamo’s direction.

Friday, Alamo was ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and officials are looking closely at the financials of high ranking member of Alamo’s organization, Tommy Scarcello. Among the Scarcello records they want to examine are money transfers and property conveyances.

Currently the group has outposts in Fouke and Fort Smith, Ark., and Saugus, California. A ministry operates in New York and in New Jersey warehouses used for Alamo-related businesses are held.

If Alamo’s contact with the outside world is truly limited and if ministry owned business assets and properties are liquidated to satisfy court-ordered debts, the group may scatter.

In 1991 when the IRS and Department of Labor seized properties the group survived. Followers moved closer to the prison housing Alamo and set up house in Fouke.

U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes agreed Friday to recommend Alamo be initially placed in a medical unit of the BOP like the one in Springfield, Mo.

Several women, Sharon Alamo, Angela Streit Morales and Alys Ondrisek, alleged Alamo wives, attended Friday’s hearing.

In a previous interview, International Cultic Studies Association Director of Recovery Programs Carol Giambalvo said members of groups with characteristics similar to Alamo Ministries sometimes, “…get more stubborn in their beliefs as they try to justify what’s happened.”

Former members, especially those that have been abused, may experience effects long term that can affect the lives of others.

Editors Note: Giambalvo said people leaving organizations like Alamo Ministries could need help adjusting and can call the International Cultic Studies Association at 239-514-3081, or Re-focus, a support and recovery program for ex-members at 386-439-7541.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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2 Posts

  1. Kevin Says:

    Sadly it appears that (Quote) “the child sex abuser and controlling “world prophet” [is indeed] “continuing to manage his organization from behind the confines of a federal prison” ! Someone from his church has apparently purchased airtime on 50,000 watt WWVA 1170 AM radio and he is on the air from 11-12 every weeknight evening. Outrageous how these bad pennies and cockroaches never seem to go away!

  2. Stephanie Says:

    These people are like terminal cancer….just when you think you’ve gotten rid of them for good they come back with a vengence and cause total destruction.

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