Five buildings and a parking lot in Fort Smith are subject to seizure by the U.S. Marshals Service to satisfy a $30 million judgment against imprisoned evangelist Tony Alamo, a judge ruled Monday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant’s ruling came in response to a request by Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek for a “writ of execution” allowing for the seizure and auction of the properties - a church, gym building, a warehouse, a restaurant, a house and a parking lot.
Deeds list multiple current and former members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries as the owners of each real-estate parcel.
At a hearing in federal court in Texarkana earlier this month, however, an attorney for Alamo, John Rogers of Clayton, Mo., argued that the properties are owned collectively by all of the ministry members, some of whom continue to use the properties.
In his ruling Monday, Bryant agreed with attorneys for Calagna and Ondrisek that the ministry cannot be the properties’ owner because the ministry is not an incorporated entity.
Bryant also noted that Steve Johnson, a former ministry member whom records list as one of the property owners, testified in a deposition that Alamo authorized the purchase of the properties and was in charge of a system in which those listed as owners signed quitclaim deeds that later could be dated, notarized and filed at the county courthouse to take away their ownership.
Bryant wrote that Alamo also approved repairs and modifications of the church and gym building and had “complete control over all the operations of the church.”
He said the properties are subject to seizure according to Arkansas Code 16-66-201, which lists real estate held by another person for a defendant’s use as among the types of property that can be seized to satisfy a judgment against the defendant.
He directed the plaintiffs’ attorneys to file a proposed writ of execution within 10 days spelling out the procedures for the properties’ sale.
Attorney Neil Smith of Irving, Texas, one of the attorneys who represented Calagana and Ondrisek, said the ruling revealed the “scheme” Alamo used to hide his ownership of property.
“That’s just not a scam that we can allow to take place, or it would be a loophole that everyone would use to avoid their creditors,” Smith said.
Rogers didn’t return a call seeking comment Monday.
Calagna and Ondrisek won the judgment against Alamo for their claims in a lawsuit that he ordered them to be beaten and forced to fast while they were children and members of the ministry, which has branches in Fouke and Fort Smith in Arkansas and in California.
The two former members had only sought the transfer of Johnson’s ownership interest in the properties. W. David Carter of Texarkana, Texas, another attorney for Calagna and Ondrisek, said other potential property owners, including current ministry members also listed as owners and banks that hold mortgages on the properties, will be notified of the court’s order and given an opportunity to assert claims tothe properties.
He said any ministry members besides Alamo who claims an ownership interest will “have to fight with us over that before the court.”
“The properties were held for [Alamo’s] use and benefit,” Carter said.