One more evangelist in the US is under the scanner for sexual abuse of children. Federal and state police raided the evangelist's compound in Arkansas late Saturday. But he says he is like Christ and hence being persecuted.
The raid was part of a two-year investigation into the ways of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, said Bill Sadler of the Arkansas State Police. About 100 agents were on the 10- to 15-acre site and met with no resistance, he said.
In addition to FBI agents and Arkansas state police, officials with the state Department of Human Services participated in the raid at the church property in the town of Fouke, about 12 miles from Texarkana.
Social workers interviewed children who live at the complex to find out whether they were abused. The 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.
"Children living at the facility may have been sexually and physically abused," Browne said.
But Alamo, reached by phone in Los Angeles, California, denied any wrongdoing.
"It's a hoax," Alamo said. "They're just trying to make our church look evil ... by saying I'm a pornographer. Saying that I rape little children. ... I love children. I don't abuse them. Never have. Never will."
Asked why authorities were searching the property, Alamo compared himself to Christ.
"Why were they after Jesus?" he asked. "It's the same reason. Jesus is living within me."
Alamo, who turned 74 Saturday, is an evangelist who also has dabbled as a singer and entrepreneur. Critics regard his ministry as a cult. The group has faced lawsuits and government actions, and Alamo has been arrested several times, publications have reported over the years.
He also claimed that the raid was part of a push by the federal government to make same-sex marriage legal while outlawing polygamy.
Alamo said he thought polygamy was allowed in the Bible but said he did not practice it himself. He also said that "consent is puberty" when it comes to sex.
We don't go into pornography; nobody in the church is into that," said 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."
Alamo and his wife Susan were street preachers along Hollywood's Sunset Strip in 1966 before forming a commune near Saugus, Calif. Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982 and 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 Alamo directed four men to strike him 140 times with a wooden paddle as punishment for minor offenses. Alamo was later charged with child abuse but prosecutors dropped the charge, citing a lack of evidence.
Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 after the IRS said he owed the government $7.9 million. He served four years in prison.
Prosecutors in the tax case argued prior to sentencing that Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.
There had been complaints about the ministry since Alamo arrived in Fouke in the late 1990s, said Terry Purvis, mayor of the town of about 850 residents. He has gotten calls from former ministry members with allegations of child abuse, polygamy and underage marriage, he said.
Purvis said he turned over all the complaints to the FBI.