Arkansas 'cult' linked to Canyon Country

KABC News, California/September 23, 2008

Canyon Country, California - FBI agents raided the compound of a controversial ministry with ties to Southern California. The FBI suspects child sexual abuse. Ministry founder Tony Alamo, described as a "cult leader," denies the charges.

The raid follows a two-year investigation into suspicions of child abuse and child pornography at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in Arkansas. Monday, Alamo said he has never promoted sexual abuse but believes there's a mandate in the bible for young girls to marry.

Eyewitness News went to Alamo's church in Canyon Country and was met by armed security. In a phone interview with a Alamo Monday morning about the raid on his compound in Arkansas, Alamo began quoting bible scripture. He characterized the U.S. government as "Satan out to bring down God's church."

More than 100 federal and state agents raided the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries Complex in Fouke, Arkansas, Saturday. Agents say the raid was a culmination of a two-year investigation into child-abuse and pornography allegations. Authorities say they have reason to believe there has been the possible sexual abuse of children at the 15-acre evangelical compound.

"It's the transportation of minors with the intent to engage in criminal activity," said Tom Browne, Little Rock FBI. "The state concerns are children living at the facility may have been sexually and physically abused."

Eyewitness News spoke with Tony Alamo by phone about the raid and the allegations.

"They went into my house and took everything, all sorts of different things," said Alamo. "They found no pornography, they found nothing. [They] said I was taking young girls across the border like a pimp, and that I was manufacturing pornography. I guarantee you they never found one piece of pornography."

During the raid, authorities say six children were placed in temporary state custody and were being interviewed. No one was arrested.

Residents who live near the compound talked about the raid.

"The community has been very upset by what they know has been going on in this cult," said one nearby resident.

"I am so thankful. I praise God this has happened," said another resident.

In the mid-1990s, Alamo was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison on tax-related charges. Prosecutors in that case argued that Alamo was a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.

"We're the strongest Christian group in the entire world, and they're trying to tarnish my reputation," said Alamo by phone.

Eyewitness News attempted to interview members of Tony Alamo Christian Church in Canyon Country, and was told to leave the premises.

"I've been 44 years on the boulevard and around Los Angeles there, so you people are very familiar with me for sure," said Alamo by phone.

During Monday morning's interview with Alamo, he was asked if he was concerned whether or not his church in Canyon Country would fall under the investigation, he said in essence: "There's no telling."

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