Evangelist Tony Alamo was arrested Friday by Internal Revenue Service agents on tax fraud charges following a hearing in San Fernando Superior Court on an unrelated felony child abuse case.
The 58-year-old former country singer, whose real name is Bernie Lazar Hoffman, was arrested by federal agents as his state pretrial hearing concluded in the San Fernando court, said Los Angeles district attorney's spokeswoman Suzanne Childs.
A grand jury in Memphis, Tenn.--a state where Alamo and his followers operated retail and manufacturing businesses--indicted Alamo on charges of filing a false income tax statement for 1985 and for failing to file tax returns for the years 1986 to 1988.
Filing a false tax return is a felony, punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, said Dan Boone, an IRS spokesman. Failing to file a tax return is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The IRS last year filed a $10-million claim against the 58-year-old religious leader for failing to pay taxes on income earned from a variety of businesses that flourished during the 1980s.
Alamo and his late wife, Susan, had built up a large religious following during the 1970s and 1980s, with church members providing free labor in church-owned businesses in California, Arkansas and Tennessee. At one time, dozens of families lived in the Saugus commune operated by the Holy Alamo Christian Church, where Alamo preached his own brand of anti-Catholic, anti-government Christianity.
Alamo has testified previously in U.S. Tax Court that he did not personally benefit from any of those enterprises. He said he only provided housing, meals, transportation and clothing.
Alamo has had a running battle with the IRS for years. The IRS stripped the Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation of its tax-exempt status in 1985 and tried to collect back taxes for seven years. The IRS auctioned off more than 400 of Alamo's belongings, including real estate in California and Tennessee, in March, 1992, to satisfy the $7.9-million tax debt.
Tax-free businesses formed nationwide by Alamo increased the foundation's net worth from less than $4,500 in 1970 into a multimillion-dollar conglomerate of businesses in Arkansas, California and Tennessee over the next 10 years. Alamo's businesses were best known for expensive, rhinestone-studded denim jackets and other clothing sold to celebrities.
In July, 1991, Alamo was acquitted of a charge of threatening to kidnap a federal judge in Arkansas.
Alamo has had two court dates this month in San Fernando on a charge he ordered the beating in 1988 of an 11-year-old boy who lived at the Saugus commune.
The boy testified in a 1991 preliminary hearing that he was hit with a wooden paddle at least 140 times by a church member who Alamo ordered over the telephone to administer the punishment.
Alamo, who faces a possible six-year sentence if convicted, has denied any wrongdoing. Last month he turned down a plea bargain offer that would spared him any jail time in exchange for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor child abuse charge.
Alamo in an interview last month said he is the target of a government conspiracy to squelch his religious teachings.