Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Convicted evangelist's hidden cash, properties

Last updated July 27, 2009 12:51 p.m. PT

Trial reveals evangelist's hidden cash, properties
By JON GAMBRELL
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER


FILE - In this Thursday, July 23, 2009 file photo, evangelist Tony Alamo talks to reporters as he is escorted to a waiting police car outside the Federal Court House in Texarkana, Ark. Followers of evangelist Tony Alamo funneled all their earnings back into his ministry, building a multimillion-dollar empire that continues even today without a trace of the preacher's fingerprints. Now, after Alamo's conviction on federal sex-crime charges, testimony at that trial could be used to picked apart the financial apparatus that allowed him to prey on young girls. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)
TEXARKANA, Ark. -- Evangelist Tony Alamo, awaiting sentencing on sex abuse charges, has been running a multimillion-dollar empire that hums along without a trace of his fingerprints.

Followers who had funneled all their earnings back into Alamo's apocalyptic ministry testified during his trial about how properties, vehicles, businesses and bank accounts fueling its operations ended up in their names.

Had the jury acquitted the preacher of charges that he took underage girls across state lines for sex, it might have given prosecutors another avenue to charge Alamo, who served four years in prison for tax evasion during the 1990s.

With his conviction, it offers the Internal Revenue Service and former followers pursuing civil court judgments against the 74-year-old a clear shot at dismantling the ministry that allowed him to prey on young girls.

"We're trying to have the court order damages that actually punish them and set an example for others," said W. David Carter, a Texas lawyer handling a lawsuit by two former followers who say they were beaten. "To the extent it requires a financial dismantling of some of the ministry's businesses, we're willing and hopefully going to be able to do that."

During the trial, U.S. attorneys used a flow chart to map financial transactions in Alamo's organization, showing plane tickets and hotel rooms for him and his "wives" bought by trusted followers with their credit cards. All those cards were paid through a Texarkana bank account listed under the name of the evangelist's bookkeeper.

Some of Alamo's followers acknowledged having ministry properties in their names to avoid prying by the IRS. Others said Alamo received a $52,000 annual salary only to appease the IRS.

However, former followers testified that Alamo was informed each day what his church's take was from its various businesses and personally signed off on every expenditure, whether food, clothing or toiletries for his followers.

At times, Alamo hid cash profits inside his private bedroom, one witness testified.

Defense witnesses acknowledged multiple properties being listed in their names, ranging from a warehouse in Booneville, Ark., mobile homes in Oklahoma and houses spread through Fort Smith, Fouke and Texarkana, Ark.

Alamo's longtime driver Sanford White testified to having one home in his name but living at another address.

"You don't remember your name being on the deed of the house you actually live in?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Candace Taylor asked.

"I don't recall ... because really we work together to provide housing," White said.

The different names likely protect Alamo from having to pay off tax liens in his name. In Arkansas' Miller County, home to his 15-acre complex in Fouke, records show the evangelist remains liable for a $100,000 civil court judgment. In Sebastian County, home to another Alamo church, clerks say numerous federal tax liens still remain active against the preacher.

David Stell, an IRS spokesman in Oklahoma City, said he didn't know whether the agency had anyone in court taking notes on witness testimony. However, he said that didn't mean the agency wouldn't be interested.

"Folks in the IRS read the newspapers, watch TV and gather information like everybody else does," Stell said. "If information comes up, that's something we'll consider."

Alamo also faces active lawsuits against the church, including a federal suit brought by Carter. That suit asks for more than $75,000 in damages and a jury trial over alleged beatings that left the two men with emotional distress and scarring.

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