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Alamo-case judge strips some of parental rights

by Andy Davis | January 30, 2010 at 1:23 a.m.

— Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin on Friday terminated the rights of several of the parents of children removed from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. Griffin’s ruling late Friday night affects all the parents except one.

The hearings were closed to the public, and details were sketchy Friday night. The three days of hearings concerned 17 children, ages 2-16, from six families.

Testimony continued throughout the day Friday regarding whether several ministry members should have their parental rights terminated, which would clear the way for their children to be put up for adoption.

Attorneys for the Arkansas Department of Human Services argued that several ministry members have made no progress in complying with orders directing them to move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry.

During an investigation into allegations of abuse within Alamo’s church, child welfare authorities removed 36 children and placed them in foster care.

Meanwhile, Alamo’s attorneys want U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes to allow Alamo to pay $2.5 million in fines and restitution after his appeals are resolved. But prosecutors said they are afraid the ministry’s assets could be “dissipated or secreted.”

“Based on testimony heard by this court at trial, the government has reason to believe assets controlled by Alamo may be dissipated or secreted during the pendency of this appeal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner wrote in a court filing earlier this month.

Alamo, 75, was sentenced in November to 175 years in prison and fined $250,000 after being convicted of taking five underage girls across state lines for sex. The evangelist was also ordered to pay each victim $500,000 in restitution.

In the criminal case, Barnes indicated at a hearing Jan. 13 that Alamo would not have to pay the restitution to his victims until his appeal was decided. But, in a written order, the judge said the money was due immediately.

In a court filing, defense attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. asked Barnes to correct the “error.” In response, prosecutors asked Barnes to reconsider his statement that Alamo could wait to pay the money.

In a Jan. 20 court filing, Jenner noted that ministry members testified during the trial that the title to ministryproperty is held by multiple church members rather than by Alamo or by the ministry itself, to protect the ministry’s assets.

The faces of those interviewed have been intentionally obscured to protect their identities.

Interviews with Teens from Alamo Ministries

Video available Watch Video

Jenner said Barnes could order Alamo to pay the amount into a court registry. That way, if Alamo’s appeal is successful, the money could be returned to him, she wrote. Otherwise, the restitution would go to the victims.

In a response filed Thursday, Alamo attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock said Alamo does not have the “personal assets” to depositthe restitution amount with the court clerk or to post a bond.

If church property is seized to pay the restitution, Hall noted, the government would have to pay Alamo back, with interest, if his conviction is overturned.

Hall also noted that Alamo’s stepdaughter, Christhiaon Coie, filed a lawsuit in Crawford County Circuit Court in September to collect on a $100,000 civil judgment she won against Alamo in 1995. Coie has asked that a warehouse, located at 301 S. 10th St.in Fort Smith and owned by ministry members, be seized to pay the judgment.

Hall said that, with interest, Coie’s judgment may now exceed $250,000. A question exists over whether that judgment would have priority over the restitution ordered in the criminal case, Hall wrote.

The judge in Coie’s case “will have to determine whether that property can even be levied on, and the restitution victims are in the same position,” Hall wrote.

Barnes had not ruled on the issue late Friday afternoon.

Front Section, Pages 11 on 01/30/2010

Print Headline: Alamo-case judge strips some of parental rights

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