Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TOP STORY > >Alamo could use a prison consultant

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor-in-chief

Tony Alamo, the self-anointed preacher and serial child molester, looked nervous outside the federal courthouse in Texarkana on Friday.

The former hotshot leader of the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation, who was once just a smalltime hoodlum and a washed-up crooner before he became rich robbing people of their dignity and freedom, was looking at serious prison time.

He realized he would die behind bars.

Alamo had exploited vulnerable people and broken the law for 40 years, and he’d bought off local officials wherever he set up his so-called ministry and flouted the law.

He smoked big cigars and drank cognac whenever he went out of town, while his followers slaved at his many businesses.

They worked without pay. He took their children and raped them.

He thought he could get away with kidnapping, brainwashing, child abuse, tax evasion and even threatening a federal judge.

After all, authorities in western Arkansas, where Tony and Susan Alamo set up their Christian ministry back in the 1970s, welcomed the couple as solid members of the community who contributed to the local economy when they opened scores of businesses in and around Fort Smith.

These officials were showered with gifts and took generous payoffs. Alamo probably supplied them with booze, drugs and underage girls.

I saw how he and his wife abused their followers and first wrote about them almost 30 years ago, while the Fort Smith newspaper praised the Alamos for taking hippies off the streets and putting them to work.

Sure, the feds put him behind bars for four years in 1991 for tax evasion, but Alamo, by then a widower, was right back in business.

He’d rip off his followers and “marry” their children, and not one Arkansas law-enforcement agency was curious about what was going on in those compounds in Dyer in Crawford County.

He distributed millions of subliterate fliers around the country. He attacked the Catholic Church, the new world order and the federal government for persecuting him.

But then Tony Alamo pushed his luck too far.

Last week, a federal jury convicted him on 10 counts of transporting underage girls across state lines for sex. Suddenly, Tony wasn’t his old arrogant self but look scared.

The 74-year-old Alamo knew he was facing up to 175 years in prison. Tony is kind of dumb — why take girls, even if they’re his “wives,” from Arkansas to Arizona when the feds are watching you? — but even he understood that the jury’s decision was a death sentence.

U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes will sentence Alamo in about two months. Even if the judge takes pity on him and sentences him to half the maximum allowed, Tony’s looking at 80 years — or about a year for every girl he molested.

But remember, there’s no parole in federal prisons. He’ll get credit for good behavior, so he might get out when he’s 150 or so.
If Tony were a white-collar criminal, he could hire a jail consultant to help him pick out the right penitentiary. He might try www.ready4prison.com.

But he won’t get to choose his own prison, which will be his tomb.

It’s a steep decline from the 1970s and 1980s, when Tony and Susan moved to Alma so she could be closer to Dyer, where she grew up the daughter of pig farmers during the Depression.

The Alamos bought a lot of land and opened a huge restaurant on Hwy. 71 in Alma. Country stars performed there. The Alamos sold fancy rhinestone-studded denim jackets made by captive labor.

They never paid their workers. No wonder their businesses made millions.

But then Susan Alamo died in 1982 from lung cancer — meeting her the year before, I could tell she was a heavy smoker — even though she told her followers she didn’t smoke and promised her followers she would be cured.

Tony wouldn’t bury her. Perhaps cruelly, people said Tony just kept playing the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up, Little Susie,” but it didn’t help.

Nothing seemed to go right after that. The phony preacher smoked and drank and fornicated, but he was losing control of himself and his businesses.

His bizarre obsession with young girls led to his eventual ruin. The feds would first get Alamo on taxes, like Al Capone.
Less than a decade after his wife died, Tony found himself in federal prison.

When he came out, he set up shop in Fouke, near Texarkana. It was said he’d bought off the city council, but his empire was just about gone.

The word was out that he was a degenerate. When he was exposed in court as a child molester, the self-styled minister said out loud in court, “Bull----.’’

The jury must have thought: What a dork.

Alamo didn’t testify in his own behalf, even though he’d bragged that he would.

The jury believed his victims. The judge should throw away the key.

The Tony Alamo jail ministry should keep him occupied for quite a while.