Alamo Jury Seated, Opening Arguments Start
A jury of 9 men and 3 women will decide the fate of jailed minister Tony Alamo.
The government alleges Alamo transported a girl as young as 8-years-old across states lines to marry her. He then had sex with that same girl before her 10th birthday, according to the U. S. Attorney.
Defense attorneys counter that the government will not be able to prove an essential element of its case, Alamo’s intent.
Actual evidence and testimony in the case begins on Wednesday when the trial resumes at 9 a.m.
Prosecutors claim evangelist ‘married’ 8-year-old
TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) — Evangelist Tony Alamo preyed on his loyal followers’ young daughters, once taking a girl as young as 8 as his bride and repeatedly sexually assaulting her, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes said that girl’s story and others would unwind an “elaborate facade” Alamo wove around himself as the preacher’s trial on charges that he took underage girls across state lines for sex began in earnest. Alamo’s lawyers argued that the alleged victims traveled across the country to further the outreach and business interests of a “bona fide religious group” that the government targeted out of its own prejudices.
U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes swore in a jury of nine men and three women on Tuesday to hear the case against the 74-year-old Alamo. Lawyers also picked two women to serve as alternates.
Alamo faces a 10-count federal indictment accusing him of taking underage girls across state lines for sex, a violation of a century-old law known as the Mann Act. If convicted, he faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each counts.
He remains held without bond until the end of his trial, scheduled to last two weeks.
Alamo to begin trial on charges of transporting minors for sex
Prosecutors accuse Alamo, 74, of sexually abusing children and having multiple wives while supervising a ministry with businesses and property in Arkansas, Oklahoma, California and New Jersey.
Former members from across the country are flying in to testify about their experiences.
Alamo is charged with 10 counts of violating the federal Mann Act, which makes it a crime to transport a minor across state lines for “sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.” Violations of the law are punishable by 10 years to life in prison.
According to the indictment, the charges involve interstate trips with five girls from March 1994 through October 2005. Prosecutors said in a court filing last week that Alamo took some of the girls as brides.
Alamo has denied having multiple wives, but prosecutors said in a court filing that they expect to call witnesses who will contradict that claim. They also expect “significant evidence” on Alamo’s view that the Bible does not prohibit polygamy. Witnesses will also testify about Alamo’s sexual relationships with other women and girls besides the ones named in the indictment, prosecutors said.
In addition to the former members who will testify, more than a dozen former members are coming from as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to watch the trial and show their support for the alleged victims.
Among them is Claudia Kochistringov of San Antonio, who remembers baby-sitting some of the girls Alamo is accused of abusing.
“I can’t wait to see justice served,” said Kochistringov, 62, who belonged to the ministry for 21 years. “It’s been an awfully long time that he’s been doing a lot of dirty work, looking like such an innocent little lamb when he’s actually such a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Coker, founder of a group known as Partnered Against Cult Activity, plans to be at the trial, too. Since 2006, her group has been spreading the word about Alamo’s teachings and allegations that children in the ministry had been abused.
“We feel like this is an evil man,” Coker said. “He would like for people to believe that it’s about his religious beliefs, his practice of religion, and it’s our hope that jurors will see it for what it really is.”
Alamo’s message, carried on religious pamphlets left on car windshields throughout the country, is a mix of fireand-brimstone Christianity and rage against what he sees as a Catholic conspiracy responsible for everything from World War II to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Alamo has also said the Bible teaches that girls are old enough to be married when they begin menstruating, although he says he does not allow underage marriages in his church.
On the ministry’s Web site, www.alamoministries.com, followers express defiance about the charges against its pastor, whom they consider a prophet.
“You have to decide who you’re going to believe – this government which has already been proven to be socialistic and communistic, or Pastor Alamo who is teaching you the truth,” a message on the Web site says. “Either you believe Pastor Alamo or the homosexual Pope.”
Alamo founded the church with his then-wife Susan in Hollywood, Calif., in the late 1960s. The ministry later expanded to Arkansas and Nashville, Tenn., attracting hundreds of followers who worked in ministry-owned businesses, including one that designed and marketed a line of elaborately decorated denim jackets worn by the likes of Dolly Parton and James Brown.
Susan Alamo died in 1982. In the years that followed, the church suffered a number of setbacks, including the loss of its tax-exempt status in 1985 and the seizure of church property to settle tax debts and a civil judgment in the early 1990s. A fugitive for two years before being arrested in Tampa, Fla., in 1991, Alamo was acquitted of threatening U.S. District Judge Morris “Buzz” Arnold in September of that year. But three years later, he was convicted of a felony count of filing a false federal income tax return, along with three misdemeanor counts of failing to file a return, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
While in prison, former members say, Alamo continued directing the operations of the ministry, and he had begun rebuilding it even before his release in 1998. Then, last September, the compound in Fouke was raided by more than 100 FBI agents, Arkansas State Police officers and child welfare case workers investigating allegations that ministry children had been physically and sexually abused. Six girls were taken into protective custody that evening. The state Department of Human Services has since taken 30 more, saying they were endangered by practices that include allowing underage marriages and punishing violations of church rules with beatings.
Jailed evangelist’s followers sell suspect goods
DYER, Ark. (AP) — Evangelist Tony Alamo once said God never wanted his ministry to be poor, but money raised by his followers only seems to go his way.
As Alamo, 74, faces accusations he took five preteen girls across state lines for sex, he presides over a multi-million-dollar empire held in his followers’ names. Trucking companies, residential property and a number of questionable ventures fund the work of his 100 to 200 acolytes.
“A substantial amount of income is generated that’s utilized for the organization, all of which is controlled by Mr. Alamo,” FBI agent Randall Harris testified at an October bond hearing. “However … none of that property ever shows legally as being in his name.”
Government agencies show Alamo built his fortune on the backs of his followers, setting them up in commercial operations rather than rely on donations like traditional ministries. By the 1980s, the Labor Department said Alamo had to pay his followers at least minimum wage; the IRS later laid claim to millions of dollars in taxes.
At the end of a four-year prison term for tax evasion in 1998 — after the government seized assets and courts rejected his charity status — Alamo paid $250,000 to cover a fine and penalties.
“How in the world could Mr. Alamo come up with a quarter of a million dollars … when the entire time he hasn’t been able to work, he hasn’t held a job other than what he may have been employed in inside a federal penitentiary?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner asked during Alamo’s bond hearing last October.
At its height, Alamo’s ministry owned gas stations, a hog farm, grocery store, restaurant and concert venue in Alma, a town near Dyer. Alamo’s Nashville, Tenn., clothing store catered to celebrities who bought elaborately decorated jean jackets. His line also carried sharkskin boots, leopard-skin jackets and sequined gowns popular with musicians at the Grand Ole Opry, which Alamo occasionally haunted in the 1980s.
His wife Susan once arrived for an interview wearing a floor-length red-and-white dress and lynx jacket. “God wants his children to go first-class,” she once said.
But life at the Alamo compound could be paradise or hell, depending on who you ask. Alamo and his wife enjoyed a heart-shaped pool near a mansion in Dyer, but federal agents said they found followers’ sleeping bags in a meeting room. Marshals said some workers earned $5 a day, with shifts lasting as long as 20 hours.