2/12/09 – Judge Sees No Effort by Parents to Get Kids Back

February 12, 2009

Judge sees no moves by parents to get kids

TEXARKANA – Three members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries whose children were placed in foster care have made no progress in finding homes and jobs outside the ministry as ordered, and one mother showed “an appalling lack of judgment” in sending a recording of an investigator’s interview with her daughter to the host of an Internet radio show, a judge found Wednesday.

Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson made the findings after a hearing to check on the parents’ progress in satisfying the requirements they must meet to be reunited with their children. The hearing was closed to the news media, but Hudson described his findings to reporters after it adjourned Wednesday evening.

At hearings in November and January, Hudson and Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin found that children in the ministry are endangered by allegations of practices that include underage marriages and beatings for violations of church rules. They said the parents can eventually be reunited with their children but must move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry.

On Wednesday, Hudson found that Debra and Richard Ondrisek, the parents of two of the children, still live at a ministry-owned house in Texarkana, and Greg Seago, the father of three children, has moved from ministry property in Fort Smith to the compound in Fouke. He added, though, that the parents all have expressed some willingness to try to meet the conditions in the orders.

Meanwhile, Seago’s former wife Gina Howard, who left the church about eight years ago, has moved from the Nashville, Tenn., area to Arkansas. She is “setting up a stable home, stable employment and is making some progress,” Hudson said.

Howard’s attorney, Pamela Fisk of Texarkana, Texas, has said her client hopes to regain custody of her children.

Hudson said he also heard testimony from a foster mother that the Ondriseks’ 16-year-old daughter was upset when her mother sent a recording of the girl’s interview with an investigator to Internet talk show host Tom Friess, who had the video posted on his Web site, www. In the interview, the girl describes her life in the ministry but denies she was abused. After it was posted on the Web site, the video was aired on TV news shows with the girl’s face obscured. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also posted a recording of the interview of the girl and five others on its Web site with the girls’ faces obscured after receiving copies from an anonymous source.

“When she heard her voice on television, she was very upset and cried,” Hudson said, describing the foster mother’s testimony about the Ondriseks’ daughter. “They turned the television off.”

Ondrisek’s daughter and Seago’s daughter, who is 14, were removed from the ministry’s compound in Fouke during a Sept. 20 raid. The boys – ages 10, 12 and 13 – were taken into custody during a sweep of Alamo-controlled properties on Nov. 18.

The parents’ attorneys did not return calls seeking comment after the hearing.

Since the ministry’s compound in Fouke was raided in September, a total of 36 children have been removed from the ministry, and the state Human Services Department is continuing to look for 92 others. Tony Alamo, 74, the group’s leader, is in jail awaiting federal trial on charges that he transported five underage girls across state lines for sex.

In most of the cases, judges have ruled that the parents must find homes and jobs outside the ministry if they hope to regain custody of their children. Wednesday’s hearing was the first time for a judge to check on the parents’ progress toward meeting those requirements.

Hudson set another review hearing for the Seago children May 6 and for the Ondriseks on Aug. 12. If the parents who are in the ministry continue to fail to make progress, the state Department of Human Services could recommend an alternative plan, such as placing the children with guardians or putting them up for adoption. A review hearing for 24 other children, whose cases were assigned to Griffin, is set for March 12.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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