5/5/13 – TG: Alamo followers claim ownership of property

Texarkana Gazette
May 5, 2013
By:Lynn LaRowe – Texarkana Gazette

Alamo followers claim ownership of property

Loyal followers filed claims of joint ownership of six properties a federal judge has ordered can be sold to partially satisfy a $30 million judgment imprisoned evangelist Tony Alamo owes to two former members.

Three other members, who are listed property owners, have filed notices of legal ownership for some of the real estate.

“Most of the claims filed thus far are made by ‘members’ of Tony Alamo’s ‘ministry,’” Texarkana lawyer David Carter said in an email. “It is a continuation of the shell game directed by Alamo and implemented by his followers. We look forward to the hearing, at which these folks can explain the stacks of undated and backdated deeds they used to pass ‘title’ to these properties amongst themselves like hot potatoes.”

Last month U.S. District Judge Barry Bryant granted Carter and Irving, Texas, lawyer Neil Smith permission to sell six properties associated with Alamo. The order came in a civil case filed by Carter on behalf of Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna, two men raised in the controversial group.

Carter and Smith described Alamo’s practice of putting properties in the names of followers as a quitclaim scheme designed to shield Alamo from being held financially accountable for his misdeeds.

When a property is placed in the name of a follower, that person signs a quitclaim deed which is kept in the group’s office. If the member falls from Alamo’s favor, the deed is backdated and notarized, and ownership of the property is transferred to a follower in good standing.

A jury found Alamo guilty of battery, outrage and conspiracy and awarded the two men actual and punitive damages. The original $66 million award was reduced by an appellate court to $30 million. Ondrisek and Calagna have not collected any of the $15 million each has coming.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last month to consider Alamo’s complaints about the large judgment coincidentally on the same day Bryant issued his order to sell six Fort Smith, Ark., properties: the church building, a gym building, a warehouse, a restaurant parking lot, a restaurant and a residential house.

Alamo’s lawyer, John Clayton of Missouri, argued at a hearing April 2 that the properties are actually owned by all members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, not just those listed as actual owners.

Bryant rejected Clayton’s argument, citing Arkansas law that does not allow property ownership by an unincorporated group of people. Bryant’s order states that Alamo controlled the properties and made decisions without input from anyone else in the group.

Despite that, Clayton filed claims of joint ownership of the six properties on behalf of 24 followers. Claims of legal ownership were filed on behalf of Donn Wolf, Ben Edwards and Thomas Scarcello by Clayton. Wolf’s name appears on property records for the Fort Smith church building, Edwards’ name appears on property records for the gym building, and Scarcello’s name appears on records for the warehouse.

Bryant has scheduled a hearing for later this month to address the members’ claims.

Alamo is currently serving a 175-year federal prison sentence for bringing women he wed as children and lived with polygamously across state lines for sex.

In: 2013, Breaking News

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