Ark. Evangelist In Court On Child Sex Rap

This Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008 file booking photo released by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office, in Flagstaff, Ariz., shows Tony Alamo, evangelist and convicted tax evader. Alamo, whose birth name is Bernie Lazar Hoffman, appeared in court Friday for a brief hearing. AP Photo, File

Evangelist Tony Alamo appeared in court Friday for a five-minute hearing on a federal charge accusing him of transporting minors across state lines for sex.

It was Alamo's first appearance since his Sept. 25 arrest in Arizona, five days after his compound in Fouke was raided and six girls were taken into protective custody. A federal grand jury indicted Alamo on the charge that he violated the Mann Act that prohibits bringing children across state lines for sex.

He faces two counts: one of Mann Act and one of aiding and abetting the transfer. If convicted, Alamo faces 10 years to life in prison and a $250,000 fine on each charge.

In court Friday, Alamo said he understood the charges but that he could not read them. He has said he's legally blind.

Alamo's attorney, John Wesley Hall, said he was given a copy of the arrest affidavit by the public defender who represented Alamo in Arizona but would not provide a copy.

"It's full of a lot of stuff that I don't think the government will be able to prove," Hall said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant set a hearing for Wednesday on whether Alamo, who remains jailed, can be released before trial. Prosecutors have said Alamo has shown himself to be a flight risk and should remain in custody.

Bryant also set a trial date for Nov. 19.

In the raid in Fouke, agents were searching for evidence that children there had been molested or filmed having sex. Alamo has long promoted the idea of girls being allowed to marry as soon as they reach puberty but has denied in interviews that such marriages have taken place in his ministry.

Alamo also has operations in Fort Smith, California and New Jersey.

Since establishing his ministries in Arkansas, Alamo has drawn attention for brushes with the law and unusual behavior, such as keeping his late wife's corpse for years under the belief that she would be resurrected.

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.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes the ministry as a cult that thrives on criticism of homosexuals, Roman Catholics and the government.


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