10/23/08 – FBI looking for DNA on a piece of carpet in the gym

Texarkana Gazette
October 23, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Alamo to remain in jail

Tony Alamo will remain behind bars while his case proceeds to trial, U.S. Magistrate Barry Bryant ruled after listening to roughly four and a half hours of testimony Wednesday.

“No condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the safety of the community,” Bryant said of the accused evangelist’s request for pretrial freedom.

“This court also finds … that there is evidence the defendant will flee,” he said shortly before adjourning Alamo’s detention hearing.

While the hearing proceeded, the FBI and Arkansas State Police executed a search warrant for the gymnasium at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke, Ark.

“I was told they were looking for DNA on a piece of carpet in the gym,” Alamo’s lead defense attorney John Wesley Hall of Little Rock said incredulously. “Can you imagine how much DNA there has to be in a gym?”

Alamo, whose real name is Bernard LaZar Hoffman, is accused of bringing a 13-year-old girl from California to Arkansas for sex in 2004. He is also charged with aiding and abetting such with the girl in 2005.

“It’s just the same old persecution,” Alamo told reporters as U.S. marshals led him from the downtown Texarkana federal courthouse in shackles and handcuffs.

Seven witnesses, three called by prosecutors and four called by the defense, gave sworn testimony before a packed courtroom. A sizable group of reporters, Alamo devotees and Fouke residents filled the seats. Several attorneys involved in the custody cases of six girls removed from the Fouke compound last month also attended the hearing.

While waiting for the hearing to begin, one Alamo follower studied chapters 45 and 46 from the Book of Isaiah from a Bible with the name Brian M. Broderick printed on its worn leather cover.

Two former followers and three current ones described from vastly different perspectives the immense control Alamo exerts over his flock.

Written requests for clothing, toilet paper and food are approved by Alamo personally, the witnesses said.

“So he tells you when to buy food, drive trucks, buy toilet paper, intimidate witnesses,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner asked of defense witness and follower Ron Decker.

“Yes, he controls the church. He’s the pastor of the church.”

Jael Sprinkle, 31, who testified as a former church member and Alamo wife, told the court “day-to-day operations would come to a halt” when hiding from authorities between 1989 and 1991 kept Alamo from phoning in instructions.

In 1989, a warrant was issued by California authorities for Alamo regarding the abuse of a 5-year-old boy. He was apprehended in 1991, but the charges were eventually dismissed.

“I observed a marriage and going into the bedroom,” Sprinkle said of Alamo and a teen girl below the age of consent. “I did not observe the sex act, though I was invited to.”

Richard “Spencer” Ondirsek, an 18-year-old man who left Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in May, testified about alleged physical abuse he suffered at the hands of “enforcer” John Kolbeck at Alamo’s direction.

“It would start off with Kolbeck hitting you in the face at least 15 times with his hand,” Ondirsek said of the discipline he began receiving at the age of 12.

“My eyes were open but all I could see was black. My eyes were swollen shut.”

Ondirsek’s parents, two sisters and youngest brother still follow Alamo, while two older brothers have left, he said.

“It was so severe I couldn’t sit down without pain for at least a week,” Ondirek said of the effects of being hit repeatedly with a 3-inch thick board by the 6-foot, 4-inch, 240-pound Kolbeck.

Ondirsek and Sprinkle testified Kolbeck is responsible for beating children as young as 5 and adults as old as 61.

Jenner mentioned that a warrant currently exists for Kolbeck’s arrest. His whereabouts are unknown.

Ondirsek’s parents were present for the beatings but did not intervene, he said. The former follower testified he’d been beaten by Kolbeck at least three times during his 10-year membership at the church.

“I guess they were afraid they’d be next,” he said. “Tony was giving instructions on how to do it, how many times to hit me and when to stop.”

Ondirsek testified Alamo personally hit him in the face during a beating last year.

Under cross examination from Patrick Benca, Hall’s partner, Ondirsek admitted Alamo had footed the bill for an expensive musical education in California until he quit attending church there regularly.

At the school with Ondirsek was Alamo’s own son, he testified. Both boys were sent home for missing services, Ondirsek said.

Defense witness Joan Decker, Ron Decker’s wife, elicited a round of “amen” from Alamo supporters seated in the courtroom when she made a religious reference.

“It’s a church where we all pull together,” Joan Decker said. “It’s all taken care of and we live in the coziest little home you ever did see.”

Alamo’s personal assistant, Angela Morales, testified about the various physical maladies from which Alamo suffers.

Glaucoma has rendered him legally blind, she said. To read, he must use a device that drastically enlarges print. Diabetes and heart problems also plague Alamo, said Morales, who denied being one of Alamo’s wives.

“You share his bed, don’t you?” Jenner asked Morales under cross examination.

Jenner also asked Morales about other women reported to live in the “main house” with Alamo. Morales denied any were wives other than “Sherry,” who was not identified in any other way.

Morales did admit Sherry was not the only woman with whom Alamo had produced children.

“Of course it was unfair,” she said as she left court.

The defense also called federal probation officer John Mooney to testify about Alamo’s conduct while on supervised release following his prison term for tax evasion in the 1990s.

He told the court Alamo reported as directed.

About six months into Alamo’s one-year term of supervised release, Mooney contacted him about paying the $210,000 fine he was ordered to pay.

“And he within 28 days paid a quarter of a million dollars?” Jenner queried.

Alamo had been in federal prison from 1993 to 1998 but still managed to pay more than $250,000, his fine plus interest, during June 1999.

Alamo’s lawyers argued that his health problems, his inability to help them with his own defense in light of his vision problems, his previously good conduct on supervised release and his ties to the area made him a good candidate for release.

“The seriousness of the danger discussed by a few former members with reasons to lie as opposed to hundreds, even thousands of others? He needs to be released so he can prepare for trial,” Benca said.

Benca, Hall, their associate Kara Binz and Texarkana lawyer Jeff Harrelson are representing Alamo. Jenner, Candace Taylor and Clay Fowlkes are the assistant U.S. attorneys prosecuting him.

Bryant told the court he considered four factors when making his decision to keep Alamo in custody: the circumstances of the alleged offense, the weight of the evidence, the defendant’s character and whether releasing the accused would pose a danger to the community.

Bryant noted that the crime with which Alamo is charged is a violent one. The Oct. 1 indictment of Alamo is evidence of probable cause, Bryant said.

Bryant referred to the three years Alamo avoided arrest—from 1989 to 1991—when addressing his character and potential risk of flight.

“The best evidence is that he was arrested using an alias some three years later,” he said.

“In my perspective it is the most important,” Bryant said of public safety. “There is evidence he directed the beatings of at least one minor.”

Alamo will now be moved to a local jail, Hall said. He will be allowed to use the reading device he requires while incarcerated.

If convicted, Alamo faces between five years and life in a federal prison. U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes of the Western District of Arkansas will preside over Alamo’s jury trial Nov. 19 in Texarkana.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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