- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. | FBI agents arrested evangelist and convicted tax evader Tony Alamo at an Arizona motel Thursday, days after raiding the Arkansas headquarters of his ministry, on charges that he took minors across state lines for sexual purposes.

Mr. Alamo was staying at a hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz., when arrested, said FBI spokesman Steve Frazier in Little Rock. The religious leader - who began his career as a California street preacher in 1966 - was scheduled to appear in federal court Friday in Flagstaff.

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

He said he didn’t believe any children were with Mr. Alamo at the time of his arrest but would give few other details. Authorities did not say when minors were taken across state lines or which states were involved, but Mr. Alamo has ministries in California and Arkansas.

Federal agents and Arkansas State Police officers had raided the headquarters of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in tiny Fouke 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 Mr. Alamo’s arrest after interviewing the girls this week, but Mr. Frazier would not disclose what the children said.

Mr. Alamo’s church rails against homosexuals, Roman Catholics and the government. Mr. Alamo has preached that girls are fit for marriage once they are sexually mature, which almost always happens before the legal age of consent in most U.S. states.

“Consent is puberty,” he said in a phone interview with the Associated Press last week from Los Angeles while agents raided the Arkansas compound. He denied any involvement with pornography.

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

“We will transport them to and from hearings. We will take part in any future hearings,” agency spokeswoman Julie Munsell said. “Our job right now is to basically take care of them.”

State Circuit Judge Jim Hudson said two hearings would be conducted Friday and the other four Monday in Texarkana.

The six hearings will be split among three judges who will decide whether the state had enough evidence to temporarily remove the children from their homes on the Fouke compound. If a judge rules against the state, the girls would be returned to the parents.

Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said his agency had no plans for further arrests.

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

The hotel, in Arizona’s northern mountains near the Grand Canyon, bills itself as a luxury resort.

Mr. Alamo was convicted of 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 Mr. Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation. FBI documents identified the preacher by his birth name, Bernie Lazar Hoffman, and said he turned 74 the day of the raid.

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