Evangelist Tony Alamo preyed on his loyal followers' young daughters, once taking a girl as young as 8 as his bride and repeatedly sexually assaulting her, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes said that girl's story and others would unwind an "elaborate facade" Alamo wove around himself as the preacher's trial on charges that he took underage girls across state lines for sex began in earnest. Alamo's lawyers argued that the alleged victims traveled across the country to further the outreach and business interests of a "bona fide religious group" that the government targeted out of its own prejudices.
U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes swore in a jury of nine men and three women on Tuesday to hear the case against the 74-year-old Alamo. Lawyers also picked two women to serve as alternates.
The jury includes an jobless personnel employee, a worker for a local construction company and an airport finance director who lives in Fouke, the scene of Sept. 20 raid on Alamo's 15-acre complex there. FBI agents and Arkansas State Police troopers armed with a search warrant looked throughout the complex for evidence of child pornography. The FBI arrested Alamo five days later in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Fowlkes told jurors that a 15-year-old girl who left the Alamo ministries in 2006 told the FBI that Alamo married her at age 8. The girl told agents Alamo exchanged wedding vows and rings with her and first sexually assaulted her before she turned 10, Fowlkes said.
Alamo summoned another 15-year-old girl to his home in 1994 by telephone, authorities said. The evangelist told her loyal parents that God instructed him to marry her, Fowlkes said. The parents consented and Alamo repeatedly sexually assaulted her, taking her own trips to West Virginia and Memphis, Tenn., as he prepared for a trial on federal tax-evasion charges, the prosecutor said.
Another similar call came in 1998, when Alamo married a 14-year-old girl, Fowlkes said. In 2002, Alamo, then 67, summoned three underage girls into his bedroom and shut the door, telling them God wanted him to marry two of them, Fowlkes said. Alamo later sexually assaulted two of those girls he married, one 11, the other 14, the prosecutor said.
Those girls also traveled on Alamo's orders to other states, Fowlkes said.
One of those parents encouraged the girl to marry Alamo, noting how his home had access to better food, television privileges, movies and a swimming pool, Fowlkes said. But instead of joy, the evangelist controlled every aspect of their lives from what they ate to who spoke with them, the prosecutor said.
"When the FBI began to pull on that thread, it began to unravel the elaborate facade the defendant had carefully woven around himself," Fowlkes said.
Don Ervin, who is leading Alamo's defense team, told jurors to focus on the facts in the case. He said all the girls' travel came as part of the ministry's efforts to give people "decent lives for themselves."
"This investigation, this prosecution was fueled by prejudice the government and law enforcement have against Tony Alamo's church because of its practices," Ervin said.
Alamo faces a 10-count federal indictment accusing him of taking underage girls across state lines for sex, a violation of a century-old law known as the Mann Act. If convicted, he faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each counts.
He remains held without bond until the end of his trial, scheduled to last two weeks.