4 Dec 2008

Ark. officials seize 6 Alamo ministries children in Ind.

Chicago Tribune - December 3, 2008

by Jon Gambrell | Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Child welfare officials have seized six children in Indiana associated with the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, potentially signaling a multistate sweep targeting minors involved in the jailed evangelist's church.

Julie Munsell, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, declined to say where or how the children were taken into state custody. Anthony Lane, a father of three of the children taken into custody, said officials acted Tuesday after receiving a tip from him about their location.

"I said, 'Thank God, they're going to follow us on this lead,"' Lane told The Associated Press. Lane declined to offer any specifics about where the six children were found, saying the FBI asked him to remain quiet.

Steve Frazier, a spokesman for the FBI's Little Rock field office, declined to comment Wednesday.

Wednesday morning, California child welfare officials went to the Alamo ministry's compound in Santa Clarita, said Louise Grasmehr, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Alamo and his wife Susan were street preachers along Hollywood's Sunset Strip in 1966 before forming a commune near the city just north of Los Angeles.

Grasmehr said no children were taken into state custody. She said officials went to the compound after the California Department of Social Services passed along information it received from Arkansas officials.

"Since there were no children there, we left," Grasmehr said.

The six children now in the state of Arkansas' custody will be placed in foster homes, pending future court hearings. All will undergo screenings to ensure their mental and physical health, Munsell said.

"I believe they are all in general good health, just like the others were," Munsell said.

Since a Sept. 20 raid on Alamo's Fouke compound, state officials have seized 32 children associated with the jailed evangelist's ministries over stories of alleged beatings and sexual abuse. Alamo, 74, remains held without bond on charges that violated the Mann Act, a federal law that bans carrying women or girls across state lines for "prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose."

Alamo, who has said "consent is puberty" when it comes to sex with young girls, has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. The evangelist has blamed his prosecution on a federal push to legalize same-sex marriage while outlawing polygamy, as well as a Vatican-led conspiracy and drug-abusing ex-followers.

Arkansas state officials continue to look for children associated with the Alamo ministries. However, civil orders issued in the state to place children in protective custody don't carry legal authority in other states, Munsell has said. That means parents could spirit their children to other states to avoid them being taken. On Nov. 18, state officials took 20 children from the ministries, the majority of them found in two vans that were stopped on a state highway near the Texas border.

However, child welfare officials in other states can seize children and conduct their own investigations. Munsell declined to say what information Arkansas has shared with other states. Alamo is said to have ministries and business operations in a number of states, including Colorado, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Lane, who works as a roofer in Texarkana, said he has been trying for 10 years to reunite with his children, who belong to Alamo's ministry. Lane said he saw a 13-year-old girl marry a man of about 40 just before he was kicked out of the church for asking too many questions.

Lane hired a lawyer and said that he had tried to subpoena his former girlfriend, but that it had been difficult as she moves among Alamo's churches in Arkansas and California.

Lane said he last saw his oldest daughter in 2005 as he sat in his car reading a newspaper outside of Alamo's church in Fort Smith. She offered him a ministry pamphlet, apparently unaware of who he was. When Lane told her he was her father, he said, she ran off.

When he heard his children had been found, Lane said he remained composed as he talked to state officials. But when Lane called his wife, he said the moment became too much for him to contain.

"They were tears of joy, not tears of sorrow," he said.

Alamo faces trial in February on the 10 federal child-abuse charges in Arkansas. Alamo's lawyer has said he may ask a judge for more time to prepare a defense.
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Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

This article was found at:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-ar-evangelist-childa,0,
3214927.story

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