How Former Street Preacher Tony Alamo Went From Millionaire To Convicted Criminal
The convicted child sex abuser once insisted that “consent is puberty.”
A preacher known for his apocalyptic rhetoric was once a multimillionaire with thousands of followers, but he died penniless and alone in prison years after he was convicted of sexually abusing minor girls forced to be his so-called wives.
Tony Alamo, born Bernie Lazar Hoffman, quickly became a magnet for young people, hippies and other groupies who listened to his extremist messages while he evangelized in the streets of Los Angeles in the 1960s.
Alamo went on to earn a fortune in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a designer sought after by some of the biggest musicians of the day, including Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, who wore one of the preacher’s creations, a black leather jacket, on the cover of the album “Bad.”
Despite Alamo’s success costuming the rich and famous, he continued in his role as the leader of the church he founded, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.
While Alamo reportedly increasingly became unhinged after his wife Susan died of breast cancer in 1982, he still managed to make millions and fund his cult through a range of lucrative businesses, from a hog farm and candy company to gas stations and a landscaping business, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In the 1990s, however, the U.S. Marshal’s Office seized the enterprises and Alamo served a four-year stint in prison for tax evasion. Once free, he embedded himself with around 100 devotees in a new compound in Fouke, southwestern Arkansas.
Former followers said Alamo around that time began the practice of taking multiple wives, including minors. “Consent is puberty,” Alamo told The Associated Press in an interview in 2008.
That same year, authorities raided Tony Alamo Christian Ministries on suspicion its founder was involved in child pornography and child abuse.
In 2009, the disgraced onetime street preacher was convicted in federal court in Arkansas on 10 counts of transporting minors across state lines for sex thanks in part to the testimony of five women who testified they were children when subjected to secret ceremonies and forced to “marry” Alamo. One victim was just 8-years-old, according to the AP.
Alamo was sentenced to 175 years in prison. “One day you will face a higher and a greater judge than me,” the trial judge told him, according to the AP. “May he have mercy on your soul.”
Alamo died at age 82 in a federal prison in North Carolina on May 2, 2017.
In the episode of “Evil Lives Here” titled “He Was a False Prophet,” Benjamin Risha details his personal experience with Alamo, who he viewed as a father figure. However, as Benjamin got older, he saw Alamo for who he was — a cruel fraud. When Benjamin becomes the target of Tony’s violence, he begins to fear for his life because he has witnessed what happens to others who have doubted Tony. You can watch the episode on discovery+.