Ten years ago today, about 100 members of the Arkansas State Police and FBI descended on properties in the small community of Fouke, Ark., which were owned by Tony Alamo Ministries.
Originally scheduled for mid- to late October, the operation was hastily rescheduled on the eve of Sept. 19, 2008, after an assistant U.S. attorney inadvertently sent an email to a long list of regional news agencies that spoke of the raid and an ongoing investigation into physical and sexual abuse of children. Officials contacted media outlets in the area and requested they withhold disclosure of the email's contents until after the operation began.
As marked and unmarked cars snaked onto the properties, news cameras, reporters and curious locals watched the public beginning of the end to a ministry many have described as a cult.
The agents seized records, conducted interviews and removed six young girls, ages 10 to 17, from the property and into the custody of Arkansas child welfare authorities. None would ever return.
Alamo, whose given name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, was arrested a few days later at a motel in Flagstaff, Ariz. He would never walk again as a free man.
In the months that followed, circuit judges in Miller and Sebastian counties signed removal orders for all children living on Alamo ministry properties. Many of the youngsters had been hidden but roughly 20 others were taken into state custody.
In 2009, a jury in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas found Alamo guilty of all 10 counts listed in an indictment accusing him of bringing five girls he'd wed as children across state lines for sex. The youngest was 8 when she became an Alamo bride.
Later that year, U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes sentenced Alamo to 175 years in federal prison. Alamo died May 2, 2017, in a prison medical unit.
In the interim, many of Alamo's former brides and others who were publicly beaten, forced to labor unpaid, and otherwise mistreated filed personal injury lawsuits against the disgraced evangelist, his organization and some high-ranking members. To satisfy the millions owed, properties once owned and operated by the ministry were seized and sold.
Texarkana lawyer David Carter represented two men who were abused as children raised in Alamo Ministries and multiple women who were sexually and physically abused. The Fouke properties raided 10 years ago have been sold to the highest bidder.
"We sold all the Arkansas properties, which killed their operations in this part of the world. We still have a couple of properties to sell in California and Florida," Carter said.
Carter said Alamo's victims have become survivors.
"His victims have moved on with their lives and are doing well," Carter said. "Another cult, through the hard work of prosecutors, social workers and advocates, has been shoved to the ash heap of history. But we must all remember that religious opportunists are out there and must be dealt with accordingly."