24 Sep 2008

Children seized in Ark. raid to remain with state

New York Times - September 24, 2008

by The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Six girls removed from an evangelical compound as part of an investigation into the possible sexual abuse of minors will remain in state custody for the near future, a state official said Tuesday.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services had until Tuesday night to ask the court for permission to keep the children or return them to the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound. State and federal agents raided the compound Saturday looking for evidence that children were being molested.

Department spokeswoman Julie Munsell said she couldn't comment about the legal process surrounding the girls' future, but acknowledged they wouldn't be leaving the state's care Tuesday.

''If you don't see kids coming back today, you can assume we're moving forward in this process,'' Munsell told The Associated Press just before the deadline.

State lawyers will appear before a Miller County judge sometime in the next five days for a closed-door hearing about the girls' future. The judge will decide whether the state had enough evidence to warrant removing the children from their homes.

Investigators have identified the girls, who range in age from 10 to 17, but are trying to determine who their legal guardians are, Munsell said.

There have been no arrests in connection with the raid, but U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe said prior to the raid that he expects a warrant to be issued for Tony Alamo.

Alamo, 74, has denied the abuse allegations and called the raid an attempt to smear him. He has said he believes polygamy is allowed by the Bible and ''consent is puberty'' when it comes to young girls having sex.

Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 and served four years in prison. Prosecutors in the tax case argued before sentencing that Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.

In an interview posted on the ministry's Web site Tuesday night, Alamo said that police confiscated computers at the Fouke compound, as well as went through his personal effects.

''They tore my bedroom apart, they went through every book, all my papers, they took the computers that were in the office,'' he said. ''I don't run computers at all because I'm legally blind. If I was into pornography, what good would that be? I can't even see it.''

This article was found at:

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Evangelist-Child-Porn.html

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