$66M verdict in suit against jailed cult leader Tony Alamo upheld

A federal magistrate has upheld a $66 million judgment against jailed evangelist Tony Alamo for abuse suffered by two boys when they were being reared in his ministry.

Lynn LaRowe reports in the Texarkana Gazette that

A federal judge described Tony Alamo’s behavior as “highly reprehensible” in an order handed down Tuesday denying Alamo’s bid for reduction of a $66 million civil judgment.

“We were optimistic that Judge (Barry) Bryant would not reduce the jury’s verdict. The facts in this case were compelling. And we are very pleased that the court concluded that the jury carefully considered the evidence and followed the court’s instructions in reaching its verdict,” said Texarkana defense attorney David Carter, who represented the plaintiffs. “This ruling is just another step in securing some justice for these young men.”

A jury awarded Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek, former members raised in the controversial Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, $3 million apiece in actual damages and $30 million apiece in punitive damages after a trial in June.

Alamo’s defense attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, complained in an August motion that the award for actual damages was motivated by “passion and prejudice” and that the punitive award is unconstitutional, unreasonable and unlawful. Hall argued the judgment should “shock the conscience of the court,” because the men were simply paddled and had the option of leaving the church if they chose.


“They knew their options, and they knew what they were getting into,” Hall’s motion said.

But in his order Tuesday, Bryant notes that evidence at trial showed the men were “for the first 18 years of their lives subjected to continual verbal and physical abuse at the direction of (Alamo),” subjected to repeated and ritualistic beatings, forced to labor unpaid, denied food, denied education and isolated from the outside world.

In his response to Hall’s motion, Carter argued that the men suffered so much while in the ministry that each contemplated suicide and questioned the existence of God.

“The jury in this case carefully considered the evidence and followed this court’s instructions,” Bryant’s order states. […]

After the release of Bryant’s opinion Tuesday afternoon, Hall filed notice that he intends to appeal the decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

John Erwin Kolbeck, the man who allegedly beat the boys at Alamo’s orders, died in January this year of a heart attack while on the run from law enforcement.

Evangelist Tony Alamo is serving a 175-year prison sentence for taking young girls across state lines for sex.

Theologically Tony Alamo Christian Ministries is a cult of Christianity. Sociologically the group has cult-like characteristics as well.

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This post was last updated: Sep. 15, 2011