Tony Alamo, disgraced former SCV preacher, dies

Tony Alamo Christ Church New Jerusalem Ministries on Sierra Highway in 2008.
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Tony Alamo, a disgraced pastor who was convicted of sexually abusing young girls in 2009, has died in prison. He was 82.

Once known for designing elaborately decorated jackets for celebrities including Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, Alamo died on Tuesday at a federal prison hospital in Butner, North Carolina, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons as reported Wednesday by the Associated Press.

Alamo’s multimillion-dollar network, Alamo Ministries, once operated a compound on Sierra Highway in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The disgraced preacher was convicted in 2009 on charges that he took underage girls across state lines for sex, including a 9-year-old, according to AP.

The judge who sentenced him to the maximum 175 years in prison told him: “One day you will face a higher and a greater judge than me. May he have mercy on your soul.

Most SCV recognized his name for printed flyers left tucked under windshield wipers of cars parked in and around the Santa Clarita Valley.

Over the years, Tony Alamo was the subject of many headlines in the Signal over the years.

Most notably among those headline editions were reports of his arrest in 2008.

Just moments before FBI agents arrested him in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Sept. 25, 2008, evangelist Tony Alamo completed a phone interview with The Signal.

“I’m not on the run,” Alamo said by phone from a desert location he would not specify. “I was on my way to Santa Clarita but I got stranded here.”

FBI special agents arrested the charismatic church leader without incident.

Four days prior to his arrest, FBI agents, sheriff’s deputies and county protective services agents stormed his Alamo Ministries of Saugus compound at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, according to a sheriff’s report.

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s deputies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation accompanied officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Service on the raid at Tony Alamo Christian Church New Jerusalem Ministries.

Alamo started preaching along the California streets in the 1960s, advocating a mixture of virulent anti-Catholicism and apocalyptic rhetoric. He claimed God authorized polygamy, professed that gays were the tools of Satan, and believed girls were fit for marriage even at a young age, according to AP.

“Consent is puberty,” Alamo told The Associated Press in September 2008, during the same weekend state and federal agents raided the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in the tiny southwest Arkansas town of Fouke to investigate possible child abuse and pornography.

Witnesses in the ensuing trial said Alamo made all key decisions in the compound: who got married, what children were taught in school, who received clothes, who was allowed to eat. They said he began taking multiple wives in the early 1990s, including a 15-year-old girl in 1994, followed by increasingly younger girls.

Alamo was convicted after five women testified they were “married” to him in secret ceremonies at his compound when they were minors — including one when she was only 8 years old — and later taken to places outside Arkansas for sex.

Former followers said Alamo grew increasingly unhinged after his wife, Susan, died from cancer in 1982, while the couple operated their ministry near Fort Smith in northwestern Arkansas. Her body was kept in a room at the ministry, and his followers kept a vigil, praying for months for a resurrection.

Eventually her body was buried in a crypt on the ministry’s 300-acre compound in Dyer. But in 1991, Alamo ordered his followers to pack up before federal marshals seized the property to satisfy a court judgment.

Authorities found Susan Alamo’s concrete crypt smashed open and her coffin gone. Alamo returned his wife’s remains to her family seven years later, after being threatened with jail.

Before it became widely reviled for its leader’s actions and teachings, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries attracted hippies and youngsters alienated from their parents when it started in the streets of Los Angeles in the 1960s.

Calling themselves “Jesus Freaks,” Alamo’s followers preached hellfire and a wrathful version of Pentecostalism, which is known for its spirited worship style and belief in modern-day revelation and miracles, AP reported Wednesday.

It was after he left prison in the 1990s that he started the compound in Fouke in southwestern Arkansas with about 100 followers, AP reported.

Tony Alamo was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman on Sept. 20, 1934, to a Jewish family in Joplin, Missouri.

He arrived in Los Angeles in the 1960s, claiming he was a music promoter with clients including the Beatles.

He and his wife legally changed their names to Tony and Susan Alamo after they married in Las Vegas in 1966.

with reports from the Associated Press.

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on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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