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Cult evangelist Tony Alamo was ordered today to spend his remaining years in a place that nobody will confuse with heaven. A federal judge in Texarkana, Ark., sentenced him to 175 years in prison for transporting young girls he called his “brides” across state lines for sex. Before being sentenced, Alamo, 75, testified briefly and praised God. “I’m glad I’m me and not the deceived people in the world,” he said.
The anti-Catholic, pro-polygamy, gay-bashing evangelist — whose birth name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman — was convicted in July on 10 counts of taking girls across state lines for sex over a period of 14 years. His stepdaughter, Christhiaon Coie, wasn’t among them but, in an earlier interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, said she was raped by Alamo when she was in her teens. “I want to thank [the SPLC] for demanding justice when so many others turn a blind eye to so many pathetic cowards who hide behind Bibles, sheets and children,” she said in an E-mail today as she awaited news of Alamo’s sentence.
Alamo met and married Coie’s mother, Edith — a name she soon changed to Susan — in 1966 and the couple began Tony Alamo Christian Ministries three years later in California. Followers say they were punished with beatings and food deprivation, and threatened with losing their spouses and children. Among other things, Alamo blamed the Catholic church for communism, Nazism and the two world wars.
The Alamos moved the cult’s headquarters to Arkansas in 1975. When Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982, her husband kept her embalmed body in the dining room of their home for several months in the expectation that she would rise from the dead. Her casket eventually was interred in a heart-shaped mausoleum.
Alamo served four years in prison in the 1990s for income tax evasion. He resumed his ministry when he got out. Last year, federal agents raided his 15-acre compound in the town of Foulke, Ark., near the Texas state line, looking for evidence of sexual activity with underage girls. One teenager told the FBI that Alamo “married” and had intercourse with her when she was 9. An informant told agents that she saw Alamo sometimes take more than one girl at a time to his bedroom, where he kept candy bars and a Barbie doll collection.
Three of Alamo’s child brides testified at his sentencing hearing. One, who said she became a “bride” at age 8, asked Alamo, “What kind of man of God does what you have done?”
U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes told Alamo that one day he will face a higher judge than himself, adding, “May God have mercy on your soul.” Alamo will remain in Texarkana for now, pending a Jan. 13 hearing to determine whether he should pay restitution to his victims. Then the judge will have him sent to a federal prison with hospital facilities.