TEXARKANA – After listening to testimony that Tony Alamo has ordered beatings, taken young girls as wives and controls what an FBI agent described as a “vast,” tightly controlled organization, a federal judge Wednesday ordered the evangelist held without bail pending his trial on sex charges, saying he wanted to “assure the safety of the community” and make sure Alamo doesn’t flee.
The order by U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant came after a four-hour hearing in federal court in Texarkana on whether Alamo should be released while he awaits trial on charges that he transported a minor across state lines for illegal sexual purposes.
TEXARKANA, Ark. — A federal magistrate called Tony Alamo a flight risk today as he ordered the evangelist held without bail until his trial on charges that he took a minor across state lines for sex.
The ruling came after Alamo’s former followers testified at a hearing that they were often beaten at his instructions and one said Alamo practiced polygamy with several women and girls, including a 9-year-old.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant noted that Alamo is charged with a violent crime and said he also considered that Alamo fled a California child-abuse charge in 1989 and was arrested two years later in Tampa, Fla., living under an assumed name. Alamo has access to various vehicles, he said.
Alamo, 74, said nothing after the ruling. His trial is scheduled for Nov. 19.
One witness called to the stand by prosecutors, 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 that Alamo had five other wives at the time and that she knew of him taking a 9-year-old girl as one.
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 walk only 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 instances while being disciplined for minor misbehavior, such as playing with a spray bottle. The first beating happened when he was 12 or 13, Ondirsek testified.
The 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.
FOUKE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas State Police have executed another search warrant on evangelist Tony Alamo’s Christian Ministries compound in Fouke.
The warrant orders came while the evangelist appeared in federal court Wednesday asking to be released from prison before his upcoming trial.
State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed troopers served a warrant on the compound, but said he had no other details.