Jurors convict evangelist on 10 sex-abuse counts

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) The jury of nine men and three women found Alamo guilty of transporting girls as young as 9, in violation of a nearly century-old federal law. He was accused in a 10-count indictment that said the abuse started in 1994.

Women ranging from 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.

Alamo, 74, never testified. His lawyers told him he should not directly challenge their testimony and they argued to jurors that the girls traveled for legitimate church business.

The evangelist could spend the rest of his life in prison, since each count is punishable by 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing will be held in six to eight weeks.

State and federal agents raided Alamo's compound last Sept. 20 after repeated reports of abuse.

Defense lawyers said the government targeted Alamo because it doesn't like his apocalyptic brand of Christianity. Alamo has blamed the Vatican for his legal troubles, which include a four-year prison term for tax evasion in the 1990s.

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.

At times, men were ordered away from the compound and their wives kept as another Alamo bride. Minor offenses from either gender drew beatings or starvation fasts.

In the end, prosecutors convinced jurors in Arkansas' conservative Christian climate that Alamo's ministry offered him the opportunity to prey on the young girls of loyal followers who believed him to be a prophet who spoke directly to God. They described a ministry that ran on the fear of drawing the anger of "Papa Tony."

Alamo remained defiant as jurors heard testimony for a week. He openly referred to the Branch Davidian raid at Waco, Texas, muttered expletives during others' testimony and fell asleep at times -- while alleged victims spoke from the witness stand and again as prosecutors urged his conviction.

The evangelist built a multi-state ministry on the backs of followers who worked in various businesses to support the church. In the 1980s, he designed and sold elaborately decorated denim jackets, hobnobbed with celebrities and owned a compound in western Arkansas that featured a heart-shaped swimming pool.

Federal agents seized a large portion of his assets in the 1990s to settle tax claims after courts declared his operations a business, not a church. Among items offered for auction were the plans for the studded jacket Michael Jackson wore on his "Bad" album.

The Southern Poverty Law Center considers his ministry a "cult."

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