An Arkansas judge has awarded more than half a billion-with-a-B dollars to seven women who'd been abused by the child-molesting evangelist Tony Alamo when they were girls, and Alamo's church property on Sierra Highway could end up footing the bill.
The Associated Press is reporting that Alamo abused the women when they belonged to his Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church, an Arkansas branch of the Alamo Ministries and an affiliate of the Alamo church in the Sleepy Valley section of Agua Dulce.
Each woman was awarded physical damages ranging from $10 million to $29 million, plus punitive damages ranging from $20 million to $58 million, for a total of $525 million.
Quoting news reports, the Associated Press said one of the women testified that the abuse started when she was 8, and she was forcibly raped until she escaped at age 15.
The winning attorney, David Carter, said he intends to register the judgment in California and go after the Alamo property at 13136 Sierra Highway on the theory that its water rights are potentially worth more than enough to cover the judgment.
That, according to published reports, is what Alamo claimed in a Sept. 24, 2007, email message to a member of his ministry:
"This is the water report that Ray Wilson was telling you about," Alamo purportedly said in the email. "I've put a sticker on the page that tells that it is an inexhaustible source of water, said to be worth a billion or more dollars."
His church in Sleepy Valley — the former Wilson's Restaurant — sits along the Santa Clara River, which flows into the Santa Clarita Valley and provides about half of the area's drinking water.
Alamo was convicted on the child-sex charges in 2009. He'd previously been incarcerated in federal prison for tax evasion.
Born Bernie Lazar Hoffman, the Jewish singer-turned-Christian minister and his wife, Susan, converted a former restaurant on Sierra Highway into a cult compound in the 1960s and bused in vagrants from Los Angeles for indoctrination. Perhaps best known locally for distributing anti-Catholic leaflets on car windshields, the "Alamos," as the couple's followers were called, manufactured apparel under sweat-shop conditions.
But they put up a good front and vehemently defended their messianic leader. They helped build the original football stadium at Canyon High School and often donated Tony Alamo-branded sequined denim jackets to local charity auctions.
Meanwhile the rumors persisted, and federal authorities eventually began to chase down the complaints of child exploitation. They succeeded in shutting down the slave-labor factory when they revoked the church's tax-exempt status on grounds the apparel manufacture was a business; thus was he guilty of tax evasion and various unlawful labor practices.
Nailing him for child abuse took longer, but it finally happened when enough of the women he'd molested as children came forward to testify.