3/14/2014 – TG: Federal judge rules Alamo properties can be sold

Texarkana Gazette
March 14, 2014
By: Lynn LaRowe – Texarkana Gazette

Federal judge rules Alamo properties can be sold

The Alamo Ministries church in Fouke, Ark., and other properties can be sold to partially satisfy a $30 million judgment Tony Alamo owes two men raised in the controversial group, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant issued an order Wednesday concerning the claims of 78 Alamo followers to 12 ministry-run properties in Texarkana, Fouke and Fort Smith, Ark. Bryant ruled 76 of the members asserting ownership don’t have valid claims. Bryant will consider two members’ claims to a house in Texarkana and a lot in Fouke at a hearing April 30 in Texarkana’s downtown federal building.

In 2010, a jury found Alamo is guilty of battery, conspiracy and outrage in a civil suit filed on behalf of Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna by Texarkana lawyer David Carter. Ondrisek and Calagna were beaten, starved, forced to labor unpaid and denied education as children raised in Alamo Ministries.

Carter and Irving, Texas, lawyer Neil Smith already have gotten the green light from Bryant to liquidate six Fort Smith properties despite objections from a sizable group of Alamo loyalists. Last month, Bryant heard testimony concerning 26 members’ ownership claims to a second group of 12 properties.

The 26 members whose claims Bryant considered returned questionnaires to the court as directed by Bryant earlier in the case. Bryant’s Wednesday order states the claims of 52 members who asserted ownership but failed to return a questionnaire are out.

“These individuals were given approximately one month to respond, which is more than sufficient,” the order states. “These individuals were warned that their failure to comply with the court’s order could result in the dismissal of their claim. These individuals have also been actively involved in this litigation for nearly one year.”

The ten properties Bryant ruled are free of Alamo members’ claims include Alamo Ministries church and gym building; two houses in Fouke; a parcel of real estate on U.S. Highway 71 in Fouke; Alamo’s former Fouke residence; a truck shop and office in Fort Smith; a Fort Smith apartment complex; a playground adjacent to the Fort Smith apartment complex; a house in Fort Smith; and a warehouse in Fort Smith.

Bryant ruled a claim by William Wattles to a house in Texarkana on Locust Street will be explored further because Wattles’ name appears as one of two owners in property records. A claim by Douglas Brubach to 210 Redcut Road in Fouke will be evaluated further because his name appears as one of three listed owners.

Earlier in the case, Bryant issued an order finding Tony Alamo is the true owner of ministry-associated properties even though his name is not listed as owning any of them. Carter and Smith have argued repeatedly in court and in written filings that the group’s practice of sharing and transferring ownership of properties among members is a “quitclaim scheme” directed by Alamo to avoid accountability.

Members in whose names a property is listed sign a quitclaim deed, which is undated and kept in the ministry office. In the event a property-owning member displeases Alamo, the deed is dated and filed, transferring ownership to a member in good standing, Carter and Smith argue.

Bryant ruled the claims of 24 members who filled out questionnaires and testified at a hearing last month should be tossed out.

“Their claims of ownership are general claims based upon being part of the purported Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and their expectation of being part-owners in these properties,” Bryant’s order states. “As another example, Suzette Brown, claims an ownership interest because ‘everyone in the ministry has joint ownership as members of the ministry and we have all things in common as described in the book of Acts in the Bible.’”

Bryant ruled the members’ claims are too general to confer standing as partial owners of the properties.

Alamo, 79, whose given name is Bernie Lazar Hoffman, is serving a 175-year prison term at a federal lockup in Tuscon, Ariz., for bringing five women he wed as children across state lines for sex.

In: 2014, Breaking News

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