Seven women who alleged they were sexually abused as children by former Christian ministry tycoon Tony Alamo were awarded $525 million by an Arkansas judge this week after an Alamo church failed to respond to a lawsuit.
Collecting the largest judgment in Arkansas history, according to one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, will likely require some help from a Los Angeles court, though. Texas attorney David Carter said he would “soon” file paperwork asking that a court here sell at least two Santa Clarita Valley properties connected to Alamo’s operation.
”We’re optimistic we can get a sale done this calendar year,” Carter told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re obviously satisfied with the court’s damages finding, but at the same time there’s no amount of money that will wash away the damage inflicted upon these women.”
Alamo’s attorney, John Rogers, said he wasn’t involved in the Arkansas lawsuit. Patrick Kilgore, an attorney for church members, didn’t respond to a request for comment. A message was left with an answering service for Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.
Previous cases have whittled away the vast Alamo fortune. But Carter said a four-acre church site and a 90-acre plot — both along the Sierra Highway — could bring in nine figures, much of it because of underground water tables that church documents say are located there. Remaining church-goers could object to the sale.
Alamo, 79, has been serving a 175-year prison sentence in Tucson after being convicted in 2009 on 10 counts of sex trafficking minors. Attorney Rogers is appealing the conviction on the grounds that a previous lawyer botched the case.
During the 1960s, Alamo and his wife, Susan, founded a Christian organization in Los Angeles. They bused school dropouts and drug users into their shelters and provided food and anti-Catholic, anti-government religious lectures. The street preaching became a multimillion-dollar empire through a television show, events and merchandise cheaply manufactured by their adherents.
After years of evading arrest, Alamo served four years in prison during the 1990s for not paying about $10 million in federal taxes. His ultimate downfall came in 2008.
Authorities raided his Arkansas headquarters after allegations of child abuse, child pornography and polygamy. Alamo has said puberty signified an age of consent and that a godly man could take multiple wives.
The Arkansas lawsuit names Alamo, Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church and Jeanne Estate Apartments as defendants. The $525-million default judgment in actual and punitive damages was ordered against the church.
Carter said he is unsure whether he will ask Miller County Judge Kirk Johnson for damages to be assessed against Alamo. And ministry-connected Jeanne Estate, which owns two apartment complexes in Arkansas and one in Oklahoma, has not been served with the lawsuit yet, Carter said. He expects that portion to go to trial.
The lawsuit alleges against the church and apartment company negligence for not stopping Alamo, defamation and false imprisonment. Allegations against Alamo include battery, false imprisonment and outrage.
The lawsuit states the victims were made “brides” and “spiritual wives” as early as age 8.
One of the plaintiffs alleges Alamo “fondled” her when she visited him in prison and church members “shielded” the scene from guards. She eventually escaped the Alamo compound in Arkansas, the lawsuit states. That woman was awarded $30 million while the others were awarded up to $87 million each, according to court documents.
The Times does not name victims in sexual assault cases.
Carter also won a lawsuit in 2011 on behalf of two men who alleged Alamo abused them. A federal jury awarded the pair $66 million in total, reduced to $30 million on appeal.
About $40,000 has been collected through the sale of a heavily-mortgaged Arkansas warehouse and house. To collect the rest, attorneys have identified 26 properties spread across Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and New Jersey. Only three or four of those properties have mortgages, Carter said.
The Alamos, who were born Jewish, used the threat of hell to keep a tight rein on their Christian community, holding power over matters large and small, from approving clothes to selecting jobs and marriage partners. They built dorms, classrooms and play areas to keep children hooked, lawsuits have alleged.
Alamo began having concurrent sexual relationships after his wife died in 1982 and failed to resurrect as he had said she would. Church-goers had kept an eye on her body for months. The Times reported that most people at the time agreed that Susan Alamo had been the real power behind the church.