LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A federal appeals court upheld the criminal convictions of Tony Alamo on Thursday, finding that the 76-year-old evangelist took underage girls across state lines with the primary purpose of sexually exploiting them.
Jurors convicted Alamo last year on 10 counts of violating the Mann Act, a century-old law originally aimed at stopping women from being sold into prostitution. Prosecutors said Alamo traveled the country with his young "wives," including one who testified that she was 8 years old when she was forced to enter a spiritual marriage with the preacher.
A federal judge had handed down a 175-year prison sentence, which Alamo is serving in a prison in Terre Haute, Ind.
"The evidence here clearly demonstrated that in each instance (Alamo) directed the travel and transport of these girls across state lines for the purpose of engaging in proscribed sexual acts, thus supporting the jury's conviction on each and every charge," the appeals court's opinion said.
Alamo — born Bernie Lazar Hoffman — disputed the charges and argued that there wasn't enough evidence to prove his guilt.
"The fight's not over. We still have remedies," Alamo's attorney, John Wesley Hall, said Thursday, adding that he planned to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.
FBI agents and Arkansas State Police troopers raided Alamo's compound in Fouke in September 2008, and Alamo was arrested five days later in Flagstaff, Ariz. During the trial, five women, then ages 17 to 33, testified that Alamo "married" them in private ceremonies while they were minors, sometimes giving them rings. Each detailed trips beyond Arkansas' borders for Alamo's sexual gratification.
"It is disingenuous to suggest that (Alamo's) intentions for these minor girls' transportation across state lines was for any purpose other than their sexual exploitation," the court said. "He orchestrated and controlled their travel throughout interstate commerce so that they would be available to him to engage in illegal sexual relations."
Alamo also challenged statements a federal judge had made when he sentenced the evangelist. U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes said during sentencing, "Mr. Alamo, one day you will face a higher and greater judge than me. May he have mercy on your soul."
Alamo argued that the judge was influenced by religious factors, which should not be considered during sentencing. But the 8th Circuit said Barnes' comments were not inappropriate.
"Indeed, religion was a pervasive theme underlying the entire trial," the court said. "It is thus not surprising that religion might have been mentioned at sentencing."