12/3/10 – TG: Judge upholds Alamo sentence. Attorney vows to take appeal to Supreme Court

Texarkana Gazette
December 3, 2010
By: Lynn LaRowe

Judge upholds Alamo sentence
Attorney vows to take appeal to Supreme Court

Controversial evangelist Tony Alamo’s convictions and 175-year sentence for sexual abuse crimes were upheld Thursday morning by a federal appeals court.

“The fight is never over,” said Alamo’s defense attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock. “We still have remedies.”

Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, was convicted in July 2009 on all 10 counts in a federal indictment accusing him of bringing five women he wed as children across state lines for sex. He was sentenced a few months later to 175 years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes in the Western District of Arkansas’ Texarkana division.

Deborah Groom, U.S attorney in the Western District, said her office is pleased and “agrees with the appellate court’s analysis of the facts and the law.”

“We believe the evidence supported the verdict and that life imprisonment was an appropriate sentence,” Groom said.

Hall said he “doesn’t see any point” in filing a petition with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals asking them to take a second look at the case.

“I’ve been a lawyer long enough to know that’s probably an exercise in futility,” Hall said. “I’ll take it to the Supreme Court.”

Hall said different federal appellate courts have interpreted the law differently than the 8th Circuit in Alamo’s appeal. That will be a point Hall said he hopes will get the attention of the nation’s highest court.

In his appeal, Alamo, 76, argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions and that the government failed to prove that a dominant purpose for travel was to gratify his sexual appetite.

“It is disingenuous to suggest that Hoffman’s intentions for these minor girls’ transportation across state lines was for any purpose other than their sexual exploitation,” the 8th Circuit opinion said. “He orchestrated and controlled their travel … so that they would be available to him to engage in illegal sexual relations.”

Alamo’s appeal complained not only of the 10 guilty verdicts but of the 175-year sentence. It accused Barnes of “imposing his own sense of religiosity” when he said, “Mr. Alamo, one day you will face a higher and greater judge than me. May he have mercy on your soul,” at Alamo’s sentencing hearing.

The 8th Circuit ruled Barnes’ statements “may be interpreted as religious in nature but in no way does it appear to have been an inappropriate driving force or improper consideration during the court’s sentencing of Hoffman.”

“There was no abuse of discretion here,” the opinion said. “Nothing suggests that the district court’s personal view of religion in any way influenced an aspect of Hoffman’s sentence.”

The five Jane Does named in Alamo’s indictment are suing Alamo Ministries, several ministry-controlled businesses and individual members for damages. The plaintiffs are represented by Texarkana attorney David Carter.

“They are especially grateful for the court of appeal’s conclusion that their testimony concerning the disgusting behavior of Tony Alamo clearly demonstrated his guilt. It took a lot of courage for these young ladies to confront their former spiritual leader in court and recount the horrific details in public,” Carter said. “We will move forward with the civil suit on behalf of his victims and ultimately ask the court to hold accountable those who knew or should have known about this abuse yet failed to protect these children.”

Retired FBI Special Agent Randall Harris, who led the investigation into Alamo and now operates a private investigation and financial fraud investigations firm, said the work performed by the FBI and assistant U.S. attorneys Kyra Jenner, Clay Fowlkes and Candace Taylor was “complete and solid.”

“I have already spoken with a few of the girls and needless to say they are ecstatic … Now I would urge the U.S. Attorney’s Office to vigorously pursue the restitution order to provide these victims the assistance they truly deserve,” Harris said.

Each of the five victims was awarded $250,000 in the criminal case. Barnes ordered that Alamo would not have to pay while his appeal was pending.

Groom said the U.S. Attorney’s Office will “do all in our power” to collect for the victims “as the rules allow.”

If Hall does not request review from the 8th Circuit, a mandate could issue in as few as three weeks that would allow restitution collection to proceed, Groom said. If relief from the U.S. Supreme Court is sought, Groom said her office will research the restitution collection issue and proceed as permitted by the court and the law.

Alamo is at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., about 70 miles from Indianapolis. Hall said Alamo was moved there from a federal prison in Tuscon, Ariz., about two weeks ago.

Hall said despite initial concern that the move might have been part of an effort to limit Alamo’s ability to communicate with loyalists, he did not get that impression after a recent conversation with the Indiana prison’s unit manager.

While in Tuscon, Alamo’s phone privileges were suspended for trying to conduct a business enterprise.

In: 2010

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