TEXARKANA, Ark. – A former follower of evangelist Tony Alamo told federal jurors at his sex-crimes trial Monday that the preacher lashed out at her when she grimaced at the sight of a 9-year-old girl rubbing his thighs.
"Do you think I'm a dirty old man?" Alamo asked, according to the witness, whose daughter became one of his young brides at age 14.
Alamo faces a 10-count indictment accusing him of taking five girls across state lines for sex, including the 9-year-old. The woman testified that while she thought it odd that a young girl was touching Alamo on his thighs, she never thought that her children were in danger.
"I didn't want to think anything bad about Tony. We were taught that everything Tony did was of the Lord," said the woman, now 38 and living in Texas.
Alamo's lawyers say prosecutors targeted him because they disagree with his religious beliefs. Alamo has said the girls were traveling to support the ministry's work, and that the Vatican is ultimately behind the charges.
Under cross-examination, the witness who said she grimaced at what she saw said that, at the time, she didn't know what to make of the touching and eventually didn't do anything about it. She said she still questions herself about it.
"I'm just trying to figure out why a 29-year-old woman would be confused about what she saw," said the woman, whose daughter testified earlier that she had sex with Alamo in California after flying there from Arkansas.
Jurors heard from all five alleged victims last week. In graphic testimony, they said that they traveled to California, Tennessee and West Virginia for sex with their pastor or responded to his call and returned to Arkansas from out of state and had sex with him. Each count in the indictment is punishable by 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The 38-year-old woman also testified Monday that she served as a bookkeeper for one of Alamo's trucking companies and that he had called her and others in 2000, concerned that the operation was making too much money and would have a major tax liability. She said Alamo directed that the books be altered to show that the company had given money to a group that Alamo had set up as a charity.
"We basically had to juggle the books" to avoid taxes, the woman said.
Tax charges are not listed in the current indictment. Alamo served four years in prison on a tax evasion charge beginning in 1994.
While lawyers argued Monday over whether an FBI agent could say he worried about the safety of Alamo's followers after a Sept. 20 raid on the Arkansas compound, Alamo blurted out a reference to the Branch Davidian religious compound in Texas that federal agents stormed in 1993. Leader David Koresh and dozens of followers died as the complex burned.
"After Waco, they are looking for safety from the FBI," Alamo said from the defense table.
Earlier Monday, a woman whose sister had claimed to be another underage bride of Alamo misidentified the preacher from the witness stand. She pointed him out correctly when given a second chance.
The woman, 20, spoke slowly and often appeared confused. Prosecutors had summoned her to verify details that her 17-year-old sister gave Friday, including that Alamo said the Lord had told him to choose a wife from between the siblings. The 20-year-old woman, a former Alamo follower, told jurors that several people were present when the preacher picked her then-11-year-old sister as a "wife," but the previous witness had said only three people were there.
Alamo's defense team hammered on the difference.
The mother of the two witnesses told jurors she had no problem with the girls going to Alamo's home, calling him "a holy man of God" who had been blessed by "the blood of the Lord."
Prosecutors also summoned the sister of a woman who still lives in the compound. The woman, 19, said her sister moved into Alamo's home at age 12 and later became one of his wives. She said she often heard Alamo refer to several woman as wives and saw them massaging Alamo's thighs, giggling and whispering in his ears.
She also said she helped prepare Alamo's tour bus for a November 2004 trip. The 17-year-old who testified Friday said she had sex with Alamo on the bus while she was underage.