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Friends to Follow

New search warrant served on evangelist’s compound

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Posted: October 22, 2008 2:45 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    TEXARKANA, Ark. — Former followers of evangelist Tony Alamo testified Wednesday they were often beaten at his instructions and one said Alamo took a 9-year-old girl as his wife, as prosecutors sought to prevent him from being freed while awaiting trial.
    Alamo, 74, is in federal custody waiting to face charges that he took minors across state lines for sex. His trial is scheduled for next month.
    While the hearing was under way in Texarkana, Arkansas state troopers executed a new search warrant at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed. He said he had no other details. The mayor of the small southwest Arkansas town, Terry Purvis, said residents told him the investigators did not stay long at the compound.
    Police previously raided the compound on Sept. 20.
    One witness called to the stand by prosecutors Wednesday, Jael Sprinkle, 32, testified that she was taken as Alamo’s wife at age 17 and was considered his wife for two years. She said Alamo had five other wives at the time and that she knew of him taking a 9-year-old girl as his wife.
    Alamo is an advocate of allowing girls to marry when they reach puberty but has denied such unions took place within his organization.
    Sprinkle said she, her parents and others were beaten. She said a 12-year-old boy was paddled to the point of bleeding through his clothes and could only walk with assistance.
    Sprinkle also described Alamo’s control over people in his organization, saying he even had to approve inconsequential expenses such as toilet paper and toothpaste.
    Spencer Ondirsek, 18, testified that he left the compound last year after spending seven years there.
    Ondirsek said he was beaten by a man working under Alamo’s direction. He said he was hit about 15 times on the face and smacked about 30 times with a three-foot paddle on three separate instances while being disciplined for minor misbehavior, such as playing around with a spray bottle.
    The first beating happened when he was 12 or 13, Ondirsek testified.
    A federal charging document accuses Alamo of taking a 13-year-old girl across state lines for sex in 2004 and of aiding and abetting her transport across state lines for sex in 2005.
    Alamo, who is listed in court documents by his real name of Bernie Lazar Hoffman, has pleaded not guilty to the two charges, each of which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
    ———
    Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Little Rock, Ark.

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