- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

FOUKE, Ark. | Six children have been placed in temporary state custody as they are interviewed in the wake of a raid on a church compound as part of a child-porn investigation, Arkansas police said Sunday.

The children will be under the care of the state Department of Human Services during the interviews, said state police spokesman Bill Sadler. He didn’t say how long the interviews would last.

More than 100 state officers and FBI agents hit the compound Saturday in a raid that ministry leader and convicted tax evader Tony Alamo claimed in a telephone interview was part of a federal push to legalize same-sex marriage while outlawing polygamy.

Prosecutors once labeled Mr. Alamo as a polygamist who preys on girls and women.

“Should there be any long-term separation of the children from the Alamo property, a local court will make the determination as to the status of those children,” Mr. Sadler said in a statement.

He did not say how old the children were, but an e-mail that authorities inadvertently sent to news media members last week referred to 12-, 13- and 14-year-old girls.

U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe declined to comment when asked whether an arrest warrant had been issued for Mr. Alamo or other members of his church. Mr. Balfe said before the raid that he expected a warrant to be issued for the 74-year-old leader.

The search ended after midnight, and Mr. Sadler said officials had no plans to search the buildings again. The group planned to hold its regularly scheduled church services Sunday night in a former grocery store on the 15-acre complex.

The raid 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.

Social workers interviewed children who live at the complex. A 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.

In a phone call to the Associated Press from a friend’s house in the Los Angeles area, Mr. 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,” said Mr. Alamo. “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.”

Mr. Alamo and his wife, Susan, were street preachers along Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in 1966 before forming a commune near Saugus, Calif. Mrs. Alamo died of cancer in 1982, and Mr. Alamo claimed she would be resurrected and kept her body on display for six months while their followers prayed.

In 1988, following a raid near Santa Ana, Calif., three boys whose mothers were Alamo followers were placed in the custody of their fathers.

Justin Miller, then 11, told police that Mr. Alamo directed four men to strike him 140 times with a wooden paddle as punishment for minor offenses. Mr. Alamo was later charged with child abuse, but prosecutors dropped the charge, citing a lack of evidence.

Mr. Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 after the Internal Revenue Service said he owed the government $7.9 million. He served four years in prison.

Prosecutors in the tax case argued before sentencing that Mr. Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.

AP writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.

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