Tony Alamo continues to stir controversy from the Arkansas town he calls home.
A hidden corpse, a UFO sighting, an unpublished Beatles album worth millions, a global conspiracy involving popes and presidents, prison time for tax evasion.
These are a few of the stories that have swirled around evangelist Tony Alamo for decades.
Last week, controversy over Alamo figured heavily in the election of a new mayor in Fouke, Ark., where the flamboyant preacher has a ministry compound.
Alamo recently began publishing full-page evangelistic ads in dozens of major newspapers across the country, including the Tulsa World.
Friday, in a wide-ranging, hour-long telephone interview from his ministry complex in Fouke, he talked about his life.
He was born Bernie LaZar Hoffman, the son of a Romanian Jewish immigrant, on Sept. 20, 1934, in Joplin, Mo.
As a young entertainer, he changed his name to match the Italian-American singers who were popular at that time.
Before his radical conversion to Christianity in California, he said, he was a Hollywood businessman and promoter who handled some of the biggest names in entertainment.
He said he still has an unreleased Beatles album, worth millions of dollars, made when Pete Best was the Beatles’ drummer. Best was fired in 1962 and replaced by Ringo Starr.
After his conversion, Alamo and his wife, born Edith Opal Horn but renamed Susan Alamo, established a church that passed out tracts to drug addicts, street people and alcoholics in Hollywood.
He credits that work with launching the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1975, the couple moved the headquarters of their Music Square Church to Dyer, Ark., near Alma, the area where Susan Alamo was raised.
There, he developed a network of businesses at which many of his followers volunteered.
In 1976 he was charged with violating the federal Fair Labor Standard Act, and later with income tax evasion, charges Alamo said were trumped up.
After lengthy court battles, he was convicted in 1994 of one count of filing a false income tax return, and three counts of failing to file a tax return.
His properties were seized and auctioned “for pennies on the dollar,” he said.
He served more than four years in federal prison and was released in December 1998.
“I was railroaded into prison. All that was false,” he said.
“What happened was some people in the church wanted to be on drugs, and wanted to be homosexuals, and wanted to be fornicators and adulterers, so I had to put them out.
“They stood up against me in the court and lied. The court system, on the whole, is very corrupt.”
He said the federal government told the IRS to “get him” because he had exposed Nazi war criminals as advisers to the U.S. administration.
Alamo’s ministry kept going while he was in prison, he said.
“I was doing tapes and messages over the telephone. You could hear people cussing in the background.”
Since being released, Alamo has continued his ministry, which he says broadcasts by radio in 200 countries; distributes millions of pieces of literature every year through thousands of volunteers; has daily services in Arkansas, California and hundreds of other locations; and supports churches in Africa, India and elsewhere.
“I’m not saying we’re the biggest ministry in the world, but some people say we are,” he said.
He said the heart of his message is what the Bible says about the corruption of government, and the devil’s seat in the city of seven hills (Rome).
Alamo believes the government is an anti-Christ government, in league with the Vatican, and that the media are the mouthpiece of Satan.
“The Bible says that Rome, the church there, is the mother of every abomination,” he said.
“There are a lot of good people in journalism . . . but on the whole, the grand media is like the mouth of Satan,” he said.
Alamo preaches an apocalyptic view of current world events.
“I know we’re in the end times,” he said.
He believes UFO sightings are one indication of that.
He said he and Susan were driving once to Las Vegas, when she prayed that God would show them if flying saucers existed.
“Here they came,” he said. “They were so close to the window you could hear the swishing. It was scaring me.
“I know they’re not from some other planet,” he said. “These are supernatural angels surveying the Earth just before God’s pouring out of his wrath on the Earth.”
Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982 at the former City of Faith hospital in Tulsa. Her body was taken to the Dyer, Ark., compound, where it was kept in a house in a sealed casket.
Alamo said stories about her body have been twisted out of proportion.
“I was not the kingpin of this ministry. She was the main preacher, so I prayed, ‘Oh God, if there’s a way, and if it’s of you, raise her from the dead like you did Lazarus.’ ”
He said the body remained at the house until a mausoleum on the property was completed.
Years later, as federal agents were about to confiscate the property, Alamo said one of his followers heard on a police scanner that law officers were coming to take the body. He asked some of the men to take it and hide it in a safe place until things settled down.
A daughter of Susan Alamo sued in 1995 to have the body returned. After losing a three-year court battle, Alamo’s followers delivered the body to a Van Buren, Ark., funeral home. It was later entombed at Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa.