TEXARKANA, Ark. – Evangelist Tony Alamo appeared in court Friday for a brief hearing on a federal charge accusing him of transporting minors across state lines for sex.
It was Alamo's first appearance since his Sept. 25 arrest in Arizona, five days after his compound in Fouke was raided and six girls were taken into protective custody.
A federal grand jury indicted Alamo on the charge that he violated the Mann Act, which prohibits bringing children across state lines for sex. The grand jury also indicted Alamo on aiding and abetting the transfer of children across state lines for sex.
The states involved are California and Arkansas, according to attorneys.
If convicted, Alamo faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine on each charge.
During the five-minute hearing Friday, Alamo said he understood the charges but that he could not read them. Alamo has said he's legally blind.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant set a hearing for Wednesday on whether Alamo, who remains jailed, can be released before trial. Bryant also set a trial date for Nov. 19.
Alamo's attorney, John Wesley Hall, says his client pleads not guilty to the charges, although he wasn't asked in court to state his plea.
Prosecutors oppose Alamo's request for release, calling him a flight risk.
Hall said he's considering asking for a change of venue. He said he wasn't worried about media coverage causing bias, but said there are "vocal locals" who could have an effect on the jury pool.
In the raid in Fouke, agents were searching for evidence that children there had been molested or filmed having sex. Alamo has long promoted the idea of girls being allowed to marry as soon as they reach puberty but has denied in interviews that such marriages have taken place in his ministry.
Alamo also has operations in Fort Smith, California and New Jersey.
Since establishing his ministries in Arkansas, Alamo has garnered attention for brushes with the law, opinions far from the mainstream and for unusual acts, such as keeping his late wife's corpse for years under the belief that she would be resurrected.
Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 and served four years in prison after the IRS said he owed the government $7.9 million.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes the ministry as a cult that thrives on criticism of homosexuals, Roman Catholics and the government.