6 children in Ark. custody after raid on compound
FOUKE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas state police say six children are in temporary custody after a raid on a church compound as part of a child-porn investigation.
State police spokesman Bill Sadler said Sunday that the children will be in the custody of the Department of Human Services as authorities conduct interviews. He isn't saying how long the interviews might last.
State officers and FBI agents raided the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound on Saturday. The ministry is led by convicted tax evader Tony Alamo.
He has denied any involvement in pornography.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
FOUKE, Ark. (AP) — A 15-acre church compound was quiet Sunday following a raid by federal and state law enforcement officers as part of a child-abuse and pornography investigation. A prosecutor said an arrest warrant was likely.
A man at the gate of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries turned away an Associated Press reporter Sunday morning. He refused to give his name and said no one was available to comment.
Police said the church complex would be allowed to open for Sunday services.
More than 100 state officers and FBI agents hit the compound Saturday in a raid that ministry leader and convicted tax evader Tony Alamo claimed in a telephone interview was part of a federal push to legalize same-sex marriage while outlawing polygamy.
Prosecutors once labeled Alamo as a polygamist who preys on girls and women.
Mayor Terry Purvis said he watched as the investigators left around 12:30 a.m. Sunday. He said authorities did not tell him what they found.
"In an investigation like this, they're pretty lip-locked," Purvis said.
U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe said he had no comment Sunday.
A spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Julie Munsell, would not say if any children from the compound were in state custody. Munsell said only that the agency was assisting in "assuring the protection of any potential victims."
The raid started an hour before sunset at the complex in tiny Fouke, in southwestern Arkansas. Armed guards regularly patrol the headquarters, but there was no resistance as agents moved in, state police said.
No one was arrested, but U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe said before the raid that he expected an arrest warrant for Alamo to be issued later. The federal investigation centered on the production of child pornography, while state police were looking into allegations of other child abuse, he said.
Social workers interviewed children who live at the complex, which critics call a cult. A two-year investigation involves a law that prohibits the transportation of children across state lines for criminal activity, said Tom Browne, who runs the FBI office in Little Rock.
In a phone call to The Associated Press from a friend's house in the Los Angeles area, Alamo — who was also once accused of child abuse — denied involvement in pornography.
"We don't go into pornography; nobody in the church is into that," said Alamo, 73. "Where do these allegations stem from? The anti-Christ government. The Catholics don't like me because I have cut their congregation in half. They hate true Christianity."
Alamo and his wife Susan were street preachers along Hollywood's Sunset Strip in 1966 before forming a commune near Saugus, Calif. Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982 and Alamo claimed she would be resurrected and kept her body on display for six months while their followers prayed.
In 1988, following a raid near Santa Ana, Calif., three boys whose mothers were Alamo followers were placed in the custody of their fathers. Justin Miller, then 11, told police that Alamo directed four men to strike him 140 times with a wooden paddle as punishment for minor offenses. Alamo was later charged with child abuse but prosecutors dropped the charge, citing a lack of evidence.
Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 after the IRS said he owed the government $7.9 million. He served four years in prison.
Prosecutors in the tax case argued before sentencing that Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.
Associated Press writer Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles contributed to this report.