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Six children in protective custody after Arkansas church raid

A man patrols outside Tony Alamo Christian Church in Fouke, Ark., early Sunday. Law officers raided the church compound as part of a child-abuse and pornography investigation.

Associated Press

A man patrols outside Tony Alamo Christian Church in Fouke, Ark., early Sunday. Law officers raided the church compound as part of a child-abuse and pornography investigation.

FOUKE, Ark. — Six minors have been temporarily placed in state custody as part of a child porn investigation after a raid on a ministry run by a former Tampa man who says "consent is puberty" when it comes to sex, officials said Sunday.

The children will be in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Human Services as investigators interview them, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said in a statement.

Sadler didn't say how long the interviews would last but did say that courts would decide the children's status in the event of any "long-term separation" from the property of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in rural Fouke.

He did not say how old the children were, but an e-mail that authorities inadvertently sent to media members last week referred to 12-, 13- and 14-year-old girls.

The move comes after a raid Saturday by more than 100 federal and state authorities. Investigators said their two-year investigation into allegations of child pornography and abuse focused on Tony Alamo and his ministry, described by its critics as a cult.

Alamo claimed in a telephone interview with the Associated Press on Saturday that this lastest investigation was part of a federal push to legalize same-sex marriage while outlawing polygamy. He also said for girls having sex, "consent is puberty."

Authorities' search of the Fouke complex ended after midnight Saturday, and Sadler said officials had no plans to search the buildings again. Authorities have not indicated any plans to search other ministry locations.

Sunday afternoon, a van ferried members back and forth from a nearby 15-acre compound to the church on U.S. 71. Two women, one pushing a stroller, entered the building along with several children. A man at the door told reporters that "no visitors" would be allowed in for the services.

U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe declined to comment when asked whether an arrest warrant had been issued for Alamo or other members of his church. Balfe said before the raid that he expected a warrant to be issued for the 74-year-old leader.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors the activities of extremist groups in the United States, describes Alamo's ministry as a cult that opposes homosexuality, Catholicism and the government.

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.

>>fast facts

About Tony Alamo

Tony Alamo and his wife, Susan, were street preachers on Holly­wood's Sunset Strip in 1966 before forming a commune near Saugus, Calif. She died of cancer in 1982. U.S. authorities found Tony Alamo living in a prosperous South Tampa neighborhood in July 1991 after he had been on the run from U.S. charges for two years. Alamo, using aliases, had rented a home and worked as an adviser for a local restaurant during his time in Tampa. He was wanted then on charges of child abuse based on accusations he ordered the spanking of a boy who was hit with a paddle 140 times. He also was accused of fleeing prosecution, contempt of court and threatening a judge.

Times staff and wires

Six children in protective custody after Arkansas church raid 09/21/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:42pm]

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