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Ministry's compound raided by FBI, police

Children who live at Tony Alamo's complex are questioned in a pornography inquiry. No one is arrested.

September 21, 2008|From the Associated Press

FOUKE, ARK. — FBI agents and state police raided an evangelist's headquarters Saturday as part of a child pornography investigation, and social workers interviewed children who live at the complex in southwestern Arkansas to find out whether they were abused.

The raid at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries south of Texarkana started an hour before sunset, but state police said no one was arrested. Armed guards regularly patrol the headquarters of the group -- which critics call a cult -- but there was no resistance as agents moved in, state police said.

Tom Browne, who runs the FBI office in Little Rock, said the investigation involved the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of children across state lines for criminal activity. "Children living at the facility may have been sexually and physically abused," Browne said.

In a phone call to the Associated Press from a friend's house in the Los Angeles area, Tony Alamo -- who was once accused of child abuse and has been convicted of tax evasion -- denied involvement in pornography.

"We don't go into pornography; nobody in the church is into that," Alamo said. "Where do these allegations stem from? The anti-Christ government. The Catholics don't like me because I have cut their congregation in half. They hate true Christianity."

About 100 state and federal law officers raided the 15-acre compound housing the ministry, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a cult that opposes homosexuality, Catholicism and the government.

The ministry's website says it is "dedicated to spreading the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the winning of souls worldwide."

John Selig, head of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said state workers were talking to children. "I can't say whether we will be removing any children," Selig said, adding that he did not know how many lived there.

U.S. Atty. Bob Balfe said before the raid that he expected an arrest warrant would be issued later for Alamo.

The FBI and state police issued a statement saying that every minor at the Alamo complex would be interviewed and that officials hoped to reunite children with parents at the site as quickly as possible.

Alamo was once accused in California of directing the beating of a church member's 11-year-old son. In 1994, he was sentenced to six years in prison on tax evasion charges filed in Memphis, Tenn.

The judge in the tax case ordered him held pending sentencing after prosecutors argued that the evangelist was a flight risk and a polygamist. U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla said he was concerned over "the very great control Mr. Alamo has over a number of people."

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