Feds raid Alamo Ministries in Fouke, Arkansas

Texarkana Gazette/September 20, 2008

Federal officials raided the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries Church and neighboring homes Saturday in Fouke, Arkansas, about 12 miles southeast of Texarkana.

Officials said Alamo was not at the compound.

Authorities said entry into the compound went without incident.

Among other things, authorities said they were investigating reports of child pornography. Authorities stated FBI and Ark. Department of Human Services officials are interviewing and assessing the children.

Officials said every effort was being made to keep children and parents together.

The raid started shortly before 6 p.m. and involved multiple state and federal agencies including the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Ark. State Police and the Ark. DHS.

About 100 law enforcement and Department of Human Services officials were involved in securing the area.

Alamo has been described in national news media accounts as a "charismatic evangelist."

He was convicted and served a federal prison sentence for evading federal income taxes before his presence in Fouke.

Alamo has been well known in Arkansas and California for decades for, among other things, his bizarre behavior upon the death of his wife Susan in the early 1980s.

Alamo and his wife Susan met and married in Los Angeles, where they began their evangelistic work among the homeless and drug addicts of southern California in the 1960s, according to news accounts.

They eventually moved the foundation to Crawford County, Ark., where Susan Alamo was born. The foundation thrived, providing housing and jobs for followers, and a mansion for the Alamos was built. The foundation's religious services and radio shows were popular.

The foundation raised money through several businesses in Dyer and Alma, Ark.

The main business was a restaurant just off Interstate 40 in Alma and the sale of expensive denim and rhinestone jackets, according to records.

In April 1982, Susan Alamo died of cancer, and her body was interred in a crypt on foundation property in Dyer.

Susan Alamo's body disappeared Feb. 15, 1991, when reportedly Tony Alamo ordered his followers to leave the Dyer compound before a raid by federal marshals, who were to seize foundation assets to satisfy a $1.3 million federal court default judgment against Alamo in an alienation of affection and child abuse lawsuit brought against him by former foundation members, according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Susan Alamo's body remained missing until 1998 when Alamo followers turned it over to law enforcement authorities. The body was interred in Tulsa.

In September 1994, Alamo was sentenced to six years in federal prison after he was convicted in U.S. District Court at Memphis of willful failure to file an income tax return and of knowingly filing a false return. He was also fined $210,000 and ordered to remain on probation for a year after his release.

Alamo previously told the Gazette he was "railroaded into prison on false charges of tax evasion."

"The government used a bunch of backsliders to testify against me and let some out of prison to falsely testify against me," said Alamo.

While serving his federal prison sentences, Alamo was transferred to the federal prison in Texarkana, Texas.

"A lot of the people of the church and family wanted to visit me and back then the hotel accommodations in Texarkana were not as great as they are now," said Alamo.

"They bought an inexpensive house in Fouke. I had nothing to do with that. When I got out, the people liked it here and organized a church out here and it had a grocery store. It was cramped and they used scrap lumber to build an addition on the house.

He has lived in the area for nine years.

The ministry donated $60,000 to build a city park, donated the money to purchase the "Jaws of Life" extrication equipment and during the ice storm of 2000, Alamo rented a generator to provide electricity on an emergency basis in Fouke.

On the Website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which characterizes Alamo Ministries as a hate group, an article called "The Ravening Wolf" outlines some of the Alamo beliefs that got him on the SPLC watchlist.

It reads:

"Alamo blames the Catholic Church for every evil imaginable, including communism, Nazism, the two world wars and even the Jonestown Massacre. "Narcotics, prostitution, pornography, booze and black market-every filthy thing-can be traced right back to the Vatican," the cult leader has written.

"Hatred of Catholics isn't Alamo's only unorthodox belief. In 1993, he published a tract called "The Polygamists" which argued, "the Holy Scriptures proclaim polygamy to be righteous." Fourteen years later, he still pushes that message, producing daily radio broadcasts that are beamed around the country and the world and proclaim a holy man's right to take multiple wives ..."

Earlier this year a similar raid drew national attention.

On April 3, Texas law enforcement and child protection authorities raided the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints ranch, Yearning for Zion, in Eldorado, Texas, removing more than 400 women and children. The raid stemmed from claims of child sexual abuse and forced marriages of underage girls to older men in the group, which practices polygamy. These claims were similar to those for which FDLS leader Warren Jeffs has been tried in Utah.

The FDLS are not associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons. The Mormon church disavowed polygamy many years ago. The FDLS are also not associated with the Tony Alamo Ministries, although Alamo has been sympathetic to Jeffs and also Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh.

In the time immediately after the raid, authorities removed children from their families until they could sort out family relationships and abuse charges. Most of the women and children have been released from custody and reunited with their families.

The Texas Attorney General's Office is preparing its response to FDLS claims that the raid, subsequent arrests and custodial care of the YFZ followers amount to unreasonable search and seizure.

See Sunday's edition of the Texarkana Gazette for more details of what happened in Fouke on Saturday.

(Jim Williamson, Lynn LaRowe and Ethel Channon contributed to this report.)

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