After nearly three years on the run, fugitive Saugus cult leader Tony Alamo was arrested Friday in Tampa, Fla., by U.S. marshals and local police, authorities said.
Alamo, 56, was arrested without incident at a residence in a middle-class Tampa neighborhood by a joint task force of U.S. marshals, FBI agents and Tampa police officers, said K. Michael Moore, director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
A charismatic preacher and denim-jacket designer, Alamo had been sought by authorities since October, 1988, for evading arrest on felony child-abuse charges. He allegedly ordered the beating of an 11-year-old boy at the Saugus commune where Alamo at one time lived with about 500 of his followers.
During his flight from justice, Alamo denounced federal and local authorities in several telephone interviews, saying they were engaging with Pope John Paul II in an international “conspiracy” against him. Alamo’s name appeared on leaflets distributed throughout Southern California that criticized the Jewish Federation Council, which investigated alleged cult-like activities at the Saugus commune.
Alamo was being held at Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa pending his arraignment before a federal magistrate Monday on charges that include threatening a federal judge and unlawful interstate flight.
Despite his fugitive status, Alamo continued to market and promote his lucrative denim-jacket business. The sequined denim jackets were sold for up to $1,400 each to Hollywood celebrities.
In a 1989 interview with The Times, Alamo said he personally designed the jackets, faxing drawings to his employees from his hide-outs. He was spotted selling his jackets in Las Vegas and in early 1989 he appeared at Los Angeles City Hall to pose for a photograph with Mayor Tom Bradley. A spokesman for the mayor said Bradley was unaware that Alamo was wanted by authorities.
Prosecutors and others who knew Alamo said the fugitive preacher reveled in the publicity. But in the end, it appeared to lead to his capture.
Reports on Alamo’s flight from justice appeared on several network television shows and the publicity contributed to his capture, Moore, of the marshal’s service, said in a written statement. He did not elaborate. “People who are caught up in their own importance tend to make grave errors in judgment,” said Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Foltz, who was assigned to the child-abuse case.
The charges involved an 11-year-old boy–the son of a commune member–who was allegedly struck more than 140 times with a wooden paddle at the Saugus church. Alamo allegedly directed the beating via a speaker phone.
The hunt for Alamo intensified earlier this year when he threatened in newspaper interviews to kidnap a federal judge who ruled against the Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation in a civil suit brought by six former foundation members.
Alamo also admitted in the interviews to stealing the body of his late wife, Susan, from an Arkansas mausoleum. Alamo said he stole the body to prevent federal authorities from “desecrating” it when U.S. marshals seized the 400-acre Alamo Foundation compound in Dyer, Ark.
The Arkansas property was later auctioned off to settle a $1.8-million federal court judgment awarded to the foundation members.
Alamo is also wanted by the Internal Revenue Service for $7.9 million in unpaid taxes, said Dan Boone, a spokesman for the IRS in Nashville.
“We’re interested in talking to him about how we might collect those taxes,” Boone said.