Judge awards $525M to evangelist’s abuse victims
A circuit judge in Arkansas has awarded more than half a billion dollars in damages to seven women who were physically, sexually and psychologically abused by Tony Alamo when they belonged to the evangelist's ministry.
Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson entered a default judgment this week against Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church, an arm of Alamo Ministries, after the group, based in southwestern Arkansas, failed to respond to the civil suit. Johnson awarded the women a total of $525 million in actual and punitive damages.
In the judgment, Johnson wrote that Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church acted "willfully and maliciously" in causing the plaintiffs' damages.
David Carter, who represents the women, said he's very satisfied with the court's judgment.
"It serves as notice that you cannot facilitate or enable abuse without answering for your responsibility in court," he told The Associated Press.
The actual damages awarded to each woman range from $10 million to $29 million. The court also gave each plaintiff punitive damages worth double the amount of actual damage. Those range from $20 million to $58 million.
The lawsuit also names Alamo and Jeanne Estates Apartments, which were operated by the church and controlled by Alamo. Rulings have not been issued against those defendants.
Alamo is serving a 175-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2009 of taking young girls across state lines for sex. The victims in the civil case are among the victims from Alamo's criminal case.
A federal judge recently dismissed a similar case, saying it should be heard in state court. U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey said it would be inappropriate to hear the case in federal court, knowing that the case would have to be re-litigated in state court.
The lawyer who represented Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church in federal court said he was not involved in the state court litigation, and attempts at finding a lawyer who did represent the church in Miller County Circuit Court were unsuccessful. There is no lawyer listed for Twenty First Holiness Tabernacle Church on the judgment order.
Carter believes the personal injury judgment is the largest in the history of Miller County and the state of Arkansas. Carter introduced evidence found during a search of ministry properties in Fouke, Ark., alleging that water rights on property Alamo holds in Santa Clarita, Calif., are worth several billion dollars.
Carter said he will register the judgment in California and begin proceedings to have properties in that state sold to satisfy the judgment.
According to the Texarkana Gazette, one of the women testified during a hearing Monday that when she was 8, Alamo took her to his room and laid her on his bed. He then put his hands up her shirt and down her pants, she said.
"A few days later, he asked me to be his wife," she said. The Associated Press does not typically name victims of sexual assault.
She said she was forcibly raped from age 9 until she escaped the ministry at age 15 and had been beaten when Alamo thought she was flirting with a waiter.
"Tony had older wives beat younger wives. They had to beat with all their force or Tony would beat them," the woman said, according to the newspaper. "He told us we were stupid, ugly, and that we didn't mean anything. He would cuss us while hitting us at the same time."