Controversial evangelist leader Tony Alamo arrested in child sex investigation

Friday, September 26, 2008

Controversial evangelist leader Tony Alamo was arrested in Flagstaff, Arizona Thursday and faces charges related to child sex abuse allegations at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministry organization. Alamo has previously been convicted on charges of tax evasion. United States federal agents raided Alamo's compound in Arkansas on Saturday and six girls were taken into state custody.

Tony Alamo in 1986

Law enforcement officials raided Alamo's compound in Fouke, Arkansas on Saturday and removed six girls aged 10 to 17. Over 100 federal and state agents participated in the raid on the compound, which followed a two-year investigation into Alamo and his organization.

Law enforcement officials were searching for evidence that minors had been videotaped performing sexual activities or had been molested. The Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Alamo's property for child pornography. Alamo, who claims he is legally blind and wouldn't be able to see child pornography, preaches that girls should marry young and sex with post-puberty girls is 'okay' because "in the Bible it happened".

The state concerns are children living at the facility may have been sexually and physically abused.

—Tom Browne, Federal Bureau of Investigation

"It's the transportation of minors with the intent to engage in criminal activity. The state concerns are children living at the facility may have been sexually and physically abused," said Little Rock, Arkansas FBI representative Tom Browne in a statement to KABC-TV.

The Associated Press (AP) has reported that Alamo will likely appear in federal court Friday in Flagstaff, Arizona, on charges that he violated the Mann Act by facilitating transport of minors across state lines for inappropriate sexual conduct. Documents produced by the FBI referred to Alamo by his birth name, Bernie Lazar Hoffman. Alamo has stated that he was born into Judaism but later converted to Christianity. According to the FBI, Alamo's court appearance Friday is intended to determine when he will be transported from Arizona back to Arkansas to face charges there.

Our job right now is to basically take care of them [the six girls in state custody].

—Julie Munsell, Arkansas Department of Human Services representative

Hearings have been scheduled for Friday and Monday by a state judge, to decide if the Department of Human Services of Arkansas can retain custody of the six girls. "We will transport them to and from hearings. We will take part in any future hearings. Our job right now is to basically take care of them," said agency representative Julie Munsell in a statement reported to the AP. The six girls will be present at the hearings in Arkansas: hearings for two of the girls will take place Friday and hearings for the other four on Monday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization which maintains data on hate groups, has described Alamo's organization as a "cult". The Ross Institute Internet Archives for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements maintains a web page on Tony Alamo and his organization. AP reported that many former members of Alamo's organization also characterize the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries as a "cult".

I think that congregation in there needs to see what that man is.

—Anna Pugh, former member of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries

Anna Pugh, a former member of the organization for 11 years, recounted some of her experiences in what she referred to as "Tony's Cult" to KOCO-TV. She stated that while she was living at Alamo's compound she felt she was brainwashed. Pugh says that while she was a member of the group a seven-year-old girl took her aside and told her Alamo had sexual conduct with minors while watching pornography. "I think that congregation in there needs to see what that man is. He is a monster. He is a very unmerciful, malicious, vindictive, judgemental, condemning person," said Pugh.

Is the U.S. "right to freedom of religion" appropriate given cases such as this?

Former member Anthony Lane told KSLA-TV he was kicked out of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries when he questioned some of Alamo's teachings. "He is definitely a man who arranges marriages of little girls, and orders beatings of little children," said Lane. He has been getting help from a support group called Partnered against Cult Activities (PACA). Lane is trying to gain custody of his three children who are still in the group with his wife.

Alamo was convicted of tax evasion in 1994, and was released from prison in 1998 after serving four years out of a six year sentence. The Internal Revenue Service said Alamo owed the U.S. government US$7.9 million. Prosecutors in the tax evasion case argued prior to Alamo's sentencing that he was a flight risk, and a polygamist who conducted inappropriate activities with women and girls in his organization.

The Tony Alamo Christian Ministry organization promotes a philosophy and belief system which asserts sex with underage girls and polygamy is acceptable. The organization is critical of Catholicism, homosexuality, and the government. Tony Alamo Christian Ministry has compounds in Arkansas, California, Georgia and New Jersey, and Alamo himself lives near Los Angeles.


  Learn more about Tony Alamo and Child sexual abuse on Wikipedia.