Tony Alamo, who said his embalmed wife would rise from the dead, is accused of fleeing a child abuse charge for two years

St Petersburg Times
July 6, 1991

Fugitive Cult Leader, Tony Alamo, is Arrested in Tampa

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TAMPA — A flamboyant cult leader sought by federal agents was arrested Friday at his upscale south Tampa home after two years as a fugitive.

Tony Alamo, who once displayed his embalmed wife’s body and said she would rise from the dead, was charged with threatening a federal judge, unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on a child abuse charge and contempt of court. In the last two years, the leader of the anti-Catholic sect worked in a Tampa restaurant, broadcast radio sermons and designed expensive, trendy jackets.

“Not hiding out,” he told reporters as he was led from the courthouse in shackles and a bright tie-dyed T-shirt. “Not hiding out.”

Alamo (pronounced al-AH-moe) was held without bail Friday night at the Hillsborough County Jail, where he is awaiting a court hearing Monday. He said the charges against him are false.

“I’m framed,” he said.

Alamo also spouted biblical references. “Why did Jesus get held by federal officials, and the Apostle Paul and everybody else who ever preached the true gospel?” he asked.

Asked if he likens himself to Jesus Christ, Alamo replied: “I’m certainly saved by him.”

The leader of the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation fled California in 1989 after he was charged with child abuse. An 11-year-old boy told investigators Alamo ordered four male sect members to beat him with a paddle 134 times.

Alamo, 56, also is charged with threatening to kidnap a federal judge who had ruled against him in a civil suit.

He reportedly called an Arkansas newspaper, vowing that U.S. District Judge Morris Arnold of Fort Smith “will stand before me in my court” and “should be hanged as a traitor.”

Alamo also is charged with failing to appear in court after a federal ruling that his sect violated fair labor laws.

The self-styled minister is the leader of a multimillion dollar sect that has papered walls and windows in numerous U.S. cities, including Tampa, with posters attacking the pope, who Alamo contends is a Nazi and a homosexual.

“This has been a massive manhunt,” David Jacobs of the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday. “He has been very, very elusive.”

Others say Alamo has continued his public lifestyle despite being a fugitive.

“My husband has not been hiding,” said Alamo’s wife, Sharon, who said he has continued to sell their famous designer jackets for $600 and more. “He’s been very busy supporting his family.”

Alamo worked as a consultant and adviser for Wild Child, a new family-style restaurant in Temple Terrace. A taped sermon of his one-hour radio show, The Watch-man, Rightly Dividing the Word, was broadcast six days a week from Largo-based WRFA-820 AM.

“The tapes came in on Federal Express and so did his money orders,” said WFRA program director Jim White, “He paid right on time every week.”

During his years on the run, Alamo reportedly called journalists to offer interviews and faxed Bible verses to law enforcement agencies. He settled in Tampa two years ago.

“I don’t have a special reason why,” said Mrs. Alamo, a Jewish-born convert to Christianity who claims God led her to Alamo’s fundamentalist Arkansas church. “We like the weather.”

The woman who rented to the Alamos, Jean Marston of Ohio, said she thought she was leasing her spacious three-bedroom waterside home at 4912 San Rafael to Paul and Cathy Bapal, a quiet couple with a 9-year-old daughter. They said they were in the electronics business.

But instead, in moved Alamo, a man of many identities. He was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman to a Jewish family in Chaplain, Mo., his wife said. In recent years, the man labeled an anti-Semite by federal officials called himself Tony Schwartz, Clarence Williams and Clyde Kipp.

Most neighbors on the street that ends at Hillsborough Bay thought the house the Alamos lived in was vacant.

They said they didn’t see the gray van that pulled out of the blacktop driveway every morning and returned at 6 p.m. The Alamos taped black plastic over the garage windows and kept the shutters tightly drawn.

Each month, Mrs. Marston said an untraceable money order for the rent arrived at her Ohio home. Tony Alamo kept Mrs. Marston’s phone and utilities in her name.

“They did not leave a paper trail,” said Tampa police Detective Grady Snyder.

Mrs. Alamo, 33, a soft-spoken woman whose second child is due to be born Tuesday, said she expected the raid, if not Friday then someday. There have been other raids on Alamo’s church, including one last year on his 250-acre compound near Dyer, Ark.

She and her husband’s followers believe federal officials want to kill him because they say he has exposed the link between the FBI, Vatican and Mafia. Alamo, who was rumored to have doubles, bodyguards and a cache of weapons on hand, was alone with his wife Friday.

Officers handcuffed Alamo and hustled him out in his socks. Mrs. Alamo’s daughter had gone to the beach with a friend.

Tampa police and a federal marshal waited outside as IRS agents examined business records in the house.

Last year the IRS placed liens on Alamo’s churches, clothing stores and other property to satisfy a $7.9-million bill for back taxes. They seized his 150-acre church in Saugus, Calif.

In February, federal agents auctioned Alamo’s 400-acre compound in Arkansas to settle a $1.8-million judgment awarded to six former sect members.

Tony and Susan Alamo first gained attention in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s when they preached to young runaways on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. They formed the fundamentalist Foundation in 1969 in rural Saugus, and later moved to Arkansas.

Alamo gained notoriety when he said that Susan, who died of cancer in 1982, would be resurrected. He kept her embalmed body on display for months while his followers prayed.

Stories about Alamo on TV’s A Current Affair, Unsolved Mysteries, and 60 Minutes brought in a flood of tips, investigators said.

“There’s no question, (the shows) were a factor in it.” said U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Bill Dempsey.

Friday, Alamo told reporters his group was a church, not a cult. He denied being a hatemonger.

“I don’t hate anybody,” he said, “I preach the gospel. That’s love.”

In: 1990-1999

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