- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

TEXARKANA, Ark. | A raid forced in haste, a prosecution relying on decade-old memories and a jury dealing with a century-old morality law could have given evangelist Tony Alamo a chance to walk away from sex crime charges a free man.

But the five women he took as underage “wives” when they were as young as 8 did not let that happen.

Jurors cried with the women through their testimony, listening as they related how Alamo told them God commanded them to be his sexual partners and even molested one girl while he was in federal prison. They did not falter under cross-examination, staring down the man who took their childhood and exploited their faith.

“I just don’t want him to hurt anybody else,” the woman Alamo took as a “bride” at age 8 said on the stand, weeping. “I don’t want him to touch my little sister. She’s only 12.”

Alamo stood silently Friday as he was convicted of all 10 charges against him, a contrast to his occasional mutterings during testimony. He is set to be sentenced in six to eight weeks.

The 74-year-old could face 175 years in prison for violating the Mann Act, a law originally aimed at stopping women from being sold into prostitution. Each count also carries possible fines of $250,000.

“I’m just another one of the prophets that went to jail for the Gospel,” Alamo called to reporters as U.S. Marshals escorted him back to jail. Shouts of “Bye, bye, Bernie” - Alamo was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman - came from a crowd gathered to watch.

The five women, now age 17 to 33, told jurors that Alamo “married” them in private ceremonies while they were minors, sometimes giving them wedding rings. Each detailed trips beyond Arkansas’ borders for Alamo’s sexual gratification.

With little physical evidence, prosecutors relied on the women’s stories to paint an emotional portrait of a charismatic religious leader who controlled every aspect of his subjects’ lives. No one obtained food, clothing or transportation without him knowing about it.

Jurors were convinced by the testimony that Alamo kept the girls as sexual partners, not office workers as his defense team claimed.

“That was the evidence. That was proven,” said jury foreman Frank Oller of Texarkana, Ark. “We came up with a full decision that we are quite satisfied with.”

Defense lawyer Don Ervin called the evidence against Alamo “insufficient” and said the preacher would appeal. He said Alamo’s criminal history - he served four years in prison on tax charges in the 1990s - “will hurt him” at sentencing in six to eight weeks.

Alamo remained defiant during the trial. He openly referred to the Branch Davidian raid at Waco, Texas, muttered expletives during testimony and fell asleep at times - while purported victims spoke from the witness stand and again as prosecutors urged his conviction.

But Alamo never testified. Though he announced to reporters that he wanted to, his lawyers told him he should not directly challenge the women’s testimony.

The witnesses described a tightly controlled Christian sect that ran on the fear of drawing the anger of “Papa Tony” - something the FBI and prosecutors worked with them to overcome during their three-year investigation.

“You really appreciate the courage that they showed stepping up to face their demons,” said Thomas Browne, the special agent in charge of the FBI office at Little Rock.

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