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Tony Alamo, seen in this undated file photo, denied involvement in pornography after FBI agents raided his ministry compound Sept. 20, 2008. "We don't go into pornography; nobody in the church is into that," Alamo said.

CBS

FOUKE, Ark. (AP) ― Federal authorities conducting a child-porn investigation raided the headquarters Saturday of a ministry run by a convicted tax evader once labeled by prosecutors as a polygamist who preys on girls and women.

Social workers interviewed children who live at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries complex, which critics call a cult, to find out whether they were abused. The two-year investigation involves a law that prohibits the transportation of children across state lines for criminal activity, said Tom Browne, who runs the FBI office in Little Rock.

"Children living at the facility may have been sexually and physically abused," Browne said.

The raid, conducted by state and federal authorities, started an hour before sunset at the complex in tiny Fouke, in southwestern Arkansas. Armed guards regularly patrol the headquarters, but there was no resistance as agents moved in, state police said.

No one was arrested, but U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe said before the raid that he expected an arrest warrant for Alamo to be issued later. The federal investigation centered on the production of child pornography, while state police were looking into allegations of other child abuse, he said.

In a phone call to The Associated Press from a friend's house in the Los Angeles area, Tony Alamo -- who was also once accused of child abuse -- denied involvement in pornography.

"We don't go into pornography; nobody in the church is into that," said Alamo, 73. "Where do these allegations stem from? The anti-Christ government. The Catholics don't like me because I have cut their congregation in half. They hate true Christianity."

About 100 state and federal law officers raided the 15-acre compound housing the ministry, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a cult that opposes homosexuality, Catholicism and the government. The law center monitors the activities of extremist groups in the U.S.

The ministry's Web site says it is "dedicated to spreading the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the winning of souls worldwide."

John Selig, head of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said state workers were talking to children.

A passenger van with about 12 people inside left the compound heading for Texarkana with a police escort shortly after 8 p.m. It appeared some of those inside were children, but Selig said he didn't know whether any children would be taken into state custody.

Police said the Alamo church complex would be allowed to open for Sunday services, although officers did not indicate when the search would end.

Alamo's church is in a single-story building that used to be a convenience store. A white cross stands atop the structure, with a small steeple to the right side.

Alamo and his wife Susan were street preachers along Hollywood's Sunset Strip in 1966 before forming a commune near Saugus, Calif. Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982 and Alamo claimed she would be resurrected and kept her body on display for six months while their followers prayed.

In 1988, following a raid near Santa Ana, Calif., three boys whose mothers were Alamo followers were placed in the custody of their fathers. Justin Miller, then 11, told police that Alamo directed four men to strike him 140 times with a wooden paddle as punishment for minor offenses. Alamo was later charged with child abuse but prosecutors dropped the charge, citing a lack of evidence.

Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 after the IRS said he owed the government $7.9 million. He served four years in prison.

Prosecutors in the tax case argued prior to sentencing that Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.

Alamo told the AP that he believed Saturday's raid was part of a push by the federal government to make same-sex marriage legal while outlawing polygamy.

Alamo said he thought polygamy was allowed in the Bible but said he did not practice it himself. He also said that "consent is puberty" when it comes to sex.

There had been complaints about the ministry since Alamo arrived in Fouke in the late 1990s, said Terry Purvis, mayor of the town of about 850 residents. He has gotten calls from former ministry members with allegations of child abuse, polygamy and underage marriage, he said.

Purvis said he turned over all the complaints to the FBI.

http://wbztv.com/national/Tony.Alamo.investigation.2.822128.html
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
FBI: Evangelist Alamo arrested in child sex probe



LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- FBI agents arrested evangelist and convicted tax evader Tony Alamo at an Arizona motel Thursday, alleging days after raiding the Arkansas headquarters of his ministry that he took minors across state lines for sexual purposes.
Alamo was staying at a hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz., when arrested, said FBI spokesman Steve Frazier in Little Rock. The religious leader -- who began his career as a California street preacher in 1966 -- was scheduled for a federal court appearance Friday in Flagstaff.
Alamo is suspected of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking children across state lines for illegal purposes. Frazier described those purposes as "sexual activity."
He said he didn't believe any children were with Alamo at the time of his arrest but would give few other details. Authorities did not say when minors were taken across state lines or which states were involved, but Alamo has ministries in California and Arkansas.
Federal agents and Arkansas state police had raided the headquarters of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in tiny Fouke on Saturday and removed six girls ages 10 to 17. They sought evidence that children there had been molested or filmed having sex.
Prosecutors sought Alamo's arrest after interviewing the girls this week, but Frazier would not disclose what the children said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes the ministry as a cult. Alamo's church rails against homosexuals, Roman Catholics and the government, and Alamo has preached that girls are fit for marriage once they are sexually mature.
"Consent is puberty," he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press last week from Los Angeles while agents raided the compound. He denied any involvement with pornography.
An Arkansas judge has hearings set for Friday and Monday on whether the state Department of Human Services can keep custody of the six girls. The girls will attend the hearings.
"We will transport them to and from hearings. We will take part in any future hearings," agency spokeswoman Julie Munsell said. "Our job right now is to basically take care of them."
State Circuit Judge Jim Hudson said two hearings would be conducted Friday and the other four Monday in Texarkana.
The six hearings will be split among three judges who will decide whether the state had enough evidence to temporarily remove the children from their homes on the Fouke compound. If a judge rules against the state, the girls would be returned to the parents.
Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said tha no further arrests were planned that would involve his agency.
FBI agents and police in Arizona arrested Alamo as he was leaving the Little America Hotel, which is along Interstate 40, Frazier said. It wasn't known where Alamo was headed when he was picked up.
The hotel, in Arizona's northern mountains near the Grand Canyon, bills itself as a luxury resort. Fred Reese, a hotel spokesman, declined to comment.
Alamo and his late wife Susan were street preachers in Los Angeles before forming a commune near Saugus, Calif. Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982; Alamo claimed she would be resurrected and kept her body on display for six months while followers prayed.
Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 and served four years in prison after the IRS said he owed the government $7.9 million. Prosecutors in that case argued that Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.
Since establishing his ministries in Arkansas, Alamo has been a controversial and flamboyant figure in the state. Snapshots often show him wearing large dark sunglasses, and he recently said he is legally blind.
In his autobiography, "My Life," former President Bill Clinton, an Arkansas native, described Alamo as ""Roy Orbison on speed."
Clinton recalled traveling in 1975 to see Dolly Parton sing at Alamo's compound in the town of Alma. Remembering the fiasco after Susan Alamo's death, Clinton wrote: "A couple of years later, he got involved with a younger woman. Lo and behold, God spoke to him again and told him Susan wasn't coming back after all, so he took her out of the glass box and buried her."
FBI documents identified Alamo by his birth name, Bernie Lazar Hoffman, and said he turned 74 the day of the raid. Alamo has said he was born Jewish but converted to Christianity.

http://www1.whdh.com/news/articles/national/BO89364/
 

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Assistant U.S. attorney errantly leaks Ark. raid plans

By Michael Wickline and Adam Wallworth
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

For a news director of television stations in Fayetteville and Fort Smith, it was an easy decision not to broadcast information about a federal government spokesman mistakenly sending out an e-mail to more than 60 news outlets about a child-pornography investigation.
For other news outlets, it wasn't so simple.
The Arkansas State Police was planning an October search of Tony Alamo's compound near Fouke. Assistant U.S. attorney Kyra Jenner wanted to make sure there was a plan for dealing with the 12, 13 and 14-year-old girls living on the compound, according to her e-mail.
Contacted shortly after she inadvertently sent out the e-mail Friday, Debbie Groom, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe, said, "This is my worst nightmare." She said it would be "a huge, huge problem if this got out." Groom later sent out an email that said: "Everyone this is an EMBARGO until investigation completed. Please do not publish. This was an inadvertent e-mail. Information will be forthcoming at a later date when such can be released." Balfe said news outlets received the e-mail legitimately and could publish or broadcast it.
"But that operation is going to be an extremely dangerous operation for law enforcement, and it involves children," he said. "If any of this information somehow tips off the subject of the investigation, it could be a very dangerous situation." If the story got out, it could mean harm to the officers who must enter the compound and the girls already there, he said.
Mike Courington, news director of the KHBS/KHOG stations in Fort Smith and Fayetteville, said Groom asked a staff member for the stations not to report about the e-mail.
"For us, it was a no-brainer," he said. "For starters, it's just an investigation. There haven't been any arrests." There was no benefit in reporting on the investigation because it could have jeopardized the safety of the children at the Tony Alamo compound and the stations' relationship with a federal agency it deals with regularly, Courington said.
Ray Minor, city editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Northwest Arkansas bureau, said Balfe and Groom asked the newspaper not to report on the e-mail.
"We had a lot of debates," he said, and editors in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas held a few teleconferences.
Minor said Balfe indicated that each media outlet that his office contacted had temporarily agreed not to report on the information in the e-mail.
Griffin Smith, executive editor of the Democrat-Gazette, said the newspaper agreed not to publish any report about the e-mail until at least Saturday morning as long as no other news outlet reported about it and to re-evaluate the decision Saturday morning.
"Our folks Googled the story to make sure the story wasn't out there," he said.
Smith said the newspaper's decision to temporarily not report about the information in the email wasn't easy. "We are always in favor of more information rather than less," he said, and news outlets should be uneasy when government officials ask them not to publish information.
Smith said it seemed to be "a slender reed" that a federal government spokesman pushed the wrong button to inadvertently send out information to the news media about a planned raid.
"That didn't seem to justify to be the first one to break it," he said of the story.
Smith said the newspaper has a duty to serve the public, and he couldn't see a reason why an inadvertent e-mail sent to the newspaper "was something the public felt we had a duty to let them know" about late Friday.
"We made a decision based on what we understand to be our duty, not our right," he said.
Jeff Whatley, assistant news director for KARK-TV, Channel 4, in Little Rock, said the station complied with the U.S. attorney's request because federal officials were concerned about their investigation and the safety of the people involved.
"We are more concerned about safety than about getting the story out at this point," he said before the raid occurred Saturday night.
Balfe said each of the media outlets that his office contacted agreed not to report on the information in the e-mail for an indefinite period of time before re-evaluating their decision.
Les Minor, editor of the Texarkana Gazette, said it's amazing that the federal government sent out information to more than 60 news outlets and no one reported on it. "Usually someone spills the beans."

Wire Service
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
New search warrant served on evangelist's compound

AP - This Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008 file booking photo released by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office

TEXARKANA, Ark. - Former followers of evangelist Tony Alamo testified Wednesday they were often beaten at his instructions and one said Alamo took a 9-year-old girl as his wife, as prosecutors sought to prevent him from being freed while awaiting trial.
Alamo, 74, is in federal custody waiting to face charges that he took minors across state lines for sex. His trial is scheduled for next month.
While the hearing was under way in Texarkana, Arkansas state troopers executed a new search warrant at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed. He said he had no other details. The mayor of the small southwest Arkansas town, Terry Purvis, said residents told him the investigators did not stay long at the compound.
Police previously raided the compound on Sept. 20.
One witness called to the stand by prosecutors Wednesday, Jael Sprinkle, 32, testified that she was taken as Alamo's wife at age 17 and was considered his wife for two years. She said Alamo had five other wives at the time and that she knew of him taking a 9-year-old girl as his wife.
Alamo is an advocate of allowing girls to marry when they reach puberty but has denied such unions took place within his organization.
Sprinkle said she, her parents and others were beaten. She said a 12-year-old boy was paddled to the point of bleeding through his clothes and could only walk with assistance.
Sprinkle also described Alamo's control over people in his organization, saying he even had to approve inconsequential expenses such as toilet paper and toothpaste.
Spencer Ondirsek, 18, testified that he left the compound last year after spending seven years there.
Ondirsek said he was beaten by a man working under Alamo's direction. He said he was hit about 15 times on the face and smacked about 30 times with a three-foot paddle on three separate instances while being disciplined for minor misbehavior, such as playing around with a spray bottle.
The first beating happened when he was 12 or 13, Ondirsek testified.
A federal charging document accuses Alamo of taking a 13-year-old girl across state lines for sex in 2004 and of aiding and abetting her transport across state lines for sex in 2005.
Alamo, who is listed in court documents by his real name of Bernie Lazar Hoffman, has pleaded not guilty to the two charges, each of which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
___
Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Little Rock, Ark.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081022/ap_on_re_us/evangelist_child_abuse
 
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