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FBI arrests pastor Tony Alamo in Arizona

September 26, 2008|From the Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — FBI agents arrested evangelist and convicted tax evader Tony Alamo at an Arizona motel Thursday, alleging that he took minors across state lines for sexual purposes.

Alamo was staying at a hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz., when arrested, said FBI spokesman Steve Frazier in Little Rock. The arrest came days after the FBI raided the Arkansas headquarters of his ministry.

The religious leader -- who began his career as a California street preacher in 1966 -- was scheduled for a federal court appearance in Flagstaff today.

Alamo is suspected of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking children across state lines for illegal purposes. Frazier described those purposes as "sexual activity."

Several women were traveling with Alamo when he was arrested, but no minors were with him, police said. Authorities did not say when minors were alleged to have been taken across state lines or which states were involved. Alamo has ministries in California and Arkansas.

Federal agents and Arkansas state police had raided the headquarters of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in Fouke, Ark., on Saturday and removed six girls ages 10 to 17. They sought evidence that children there had been molested or filmed having sex.

Prosecutors sought Alamo's arrest after interviewing the girls this week, but Frazier would not disclose what the children said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes the ministry as a cult. Alamo's church rails against homosexuals, Roman Catholics and the government, and Alamo has preached that girls are fit for marriage once they are sexually mature.

"Consent is puberty," he said in an interview with the Associated Press last week from a telephone registered in the Los Angeles area while agents raided the compound. He denied any involvement with pornography.

An Arkansas judge set hearings for today and Monday on whether the state Department of Human Services can keep custody of the six girls. The girls will attend the hearings.

FBI agents and police in Arizona arrested Alamo as he was leaving the Little America Hotel, which is along Interstate 40, Frazier said. It wasn't known where Alamo was headed when he was picked up.

The hotel bills itself as a luxury resort. Hotel spokesman Fred Reese declined to comment.

Alamo and wife Susan were street preachers in Los Angeles before forming a commune near Saugus. She died of cancer in 1982; he claimed she would be resurrected, and he kept her body on display for six months while followers prayed.

Alamo was convicted on tax-related charges in 1994 and served four years in prison after the IRS said he owed the government $7.9 million. Prosecutors in that case argued that Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on girls and married women in his congregation.

FBI documents identified Alamo by his birth name, Bernie Lazar Hoffman, and said he turned 74 the day of the raid.

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