LITTLE ROCK A judge Tuesday upheld an award of $66 million to two men who said evangelist Tony Alamo ordered them to be beaten and placed on fasts and verbally abused them while they were members of his southwest Arkansas-based ministry.
In a written order, U.S. Magistrate Barry Bryant said the damages were justified because Alamo’s conduct was “particularly reprehensible.”
“The jury was presented evidence of Defendant’s systematic beatings and abuse of Plaintiffs,” Bryant said in the ruling. He also noted that the jury heard evidence that in 1990, a federal judge ordered Alamo to pay $550,000 in damages to a boy who had been beaten at a ministry compound in Saugus, Calif.
Despite the judgment, Alamo “continued his beatings undeterred,” Bryant wrote.
Alamo’s attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, said he would appeal Bryant’s order to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In court filings, Hall argued that the jury was motivated by “passion or prejudice” against Alamo when it awarded the damages in June after a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in Texarkana.
The verdict included $3 million each in compensatory damages for former ministry members Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek, and $30 million each in punitive damages.
Hall noted that in a case against ministry member John Kolbeck, who was accused of carrying out the beatings, U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes awarded Calagna and Ondrisek only $500,000 each in compensatory damages and $1 million each in punitive damages. Kolbeck died of heart failure in January.
In his ruling Tuesday, Bryant sided with W. David Carter, the attorney for Calagna and Ondrisek, saying the higher damages assessed against Alamo were justified because Alamo was accused of conduct “much more egregious” than Kolbeck was. Bryant also noted that because Kolbeck did not respond to the lawsuit against him, Barnes awarded the plaintiffs a default judgment, which Bryant said is “not comparable” to a damages award in a jury trial.
Bryant also rejected a comparison to the $500,000 that Alamo was ordered to pay to each of five women whom he was accused of taking across state lines for sex when they were under age, saying restitution in a criminal case is not meant to be as comprehensive as damages in a civil case.
Alamo was convicted in the case in 2009 and sentenced to 175 years in prison.