Nation/World


Child porn case leads to raid

Evangelist subject of state, federal scrutiny

FOUKE, Ark. – Federal authorities conducting a child-porn investigation raided the headquarters Saturday of a ministry run by a convicted tax evader once labeled by prosecutors as a polygamist who preys on girls and women.

Social workers interviewed children who live at the complex housing Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, which critics call a cult, to find out whether they were abused. The two-year investigation involves a law that prohibits the transportation of children across state lines for criminal activity, said Tom Browne, who runs the FBI office in Little Rock.

“Children living at the facility may have been sexually and physically abused,” Browne said.

The raid, conducted by state and federal authorities, started an hour before sunset at the complex in tiny Fouke, in southwestern Arkansas. Armed guards regularly patrol the headquarters, but there was no resistance as agents moved in, state police said.

No one was arrested, but U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe said he expected an arrest warrant for Alamo to be issued later. The federal investigation centered on the production of child pornography, while state police were looking into allegations of child abuse, he said.

Tony Alamo – who was also once accused of child abuse – 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 Web site 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.

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.

There had been complaints about the ministry since Alamo arrived in Fouke in the late 1990s, said Terry Purvis, mayor of the town of about 850 residents.

Purvis said he has gotten calls from former ministry members with allegations of child abuse, polygamy and underage marriage.

Purvis said he turned over all the complaints to the FBI.

Purvis worried the raid would harm his town’s reputation.

“When people think of Waco or Eldorado, Texas, now, they think of cults,” Purvis said. “When people think of Fouke, Ark., they are going to think of the Alamo ministries, not the great people in this town.”


 

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