LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge has awarded seven women physically and sexually abused by evangelist Tony Alamo another $525 million, pushing the total owed by the imprisoned preacher and an affiliated church to more than $1 billion.
Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson entered a default judgment Thursday ordering Alamo to match the $525 million already owed by Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church for actual and punitive damages. No one showed up in court Thursday to defend the preacher, who is serving a 175-year prison sentence for taking girls across state lines for sex.
Texarkana, Ark., lawyer David Carter, who represented the seven women in court, said Friday he wasn't sure whether they would receive the full amount.
"We will satisfy the judgments to some degree," he said.
But he added that he wasn't sure how much assets held by Alamo and the church, an arm of southwest Arkansas-based Alamo Ministries, are worth.
"It's unlikely that they're worth over a billion dollars," Carter said.
Alamo, who was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman, was convicted in 2009 and is incarcerated at a federal prison in Tucson, Ariz. Prosecutors said the preacher took young girls as wives — some before they were teenagers — and ordered them beaten on a whim. One testified at a hearing in February that before age 15 Alamo had her beaten because he thought she had flirted with a waiter.
The victims in the civil cases are among the victims from Alamo's criminal case and belonged to Alamo's ministry. The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual assault.
John Rogers, a lawyer for Alamo in his criminal case, is seeking to appeal the preacher's conviction. Rogers said Alamo's prior attorney did an ineffective job representing the evangelist in the case. He declined to comment on the judge's order because he didn't represent Alamo in court this week.
According to Johnson's order Thursday, the women should receive from Alamo between $10 and 29 million in actual damages and double that amount in punitive damages. They're the same award amounts Johnson issued last month against the church, which has several locations nationwide, including New York, New Jersey and Arkansas, according to Carter.
Johnson said one of Alamo's properties in California reportedly sits atop an aquifer, or an underground water table, and could be worth at least $1 billion. But he said the report hadn't been independently confirmed.
Carter said he will ask the courts to list the properties of both the church and Alamo for a public auction to help fulfill both of those award settlements.
"What we're doing is very much like what we've done with Ku Klux Klan," Carter said. "They were ultimately put out of business by a series of lawsuits that resulted in large judgments. So, economically, they weren't able to operate anymore. ... Our objective is to put them completely out of business."
Alamo and his ministries have operated a number of businesses over the decades, including trucking companies and a printing company that produced paraphernalia blaming the government or the Vatican, or both, for his and the world's problems.
After losing a tax case in the 1990s, Alamo spent four years in prison for tax evasion. The IRS seized property and sold it to raise money to pay off his tax bill. Among the items sold were plans for the studded jacket Michael Jackson wore on the cover of his "Bad" album.