The Barely Legal Empire of Tony Alamo

The nutty evangelist rebuilds his young-girl-lovin' empire—with help from New Yorkers

"They're trained to call anybody and everybody to get as many donations as possible. Alamo justifies it saying it's for the good of the ministry," says Danny Ondrisek, an ex-member who worked for a time in the New Jersey branch when he was a teen. "But the main point of that organization is to make money," he insists.

To prepare donated items for resale at flea markets and to correctional facilities, private schools, and nursing homes, Ondrisek says, "they strip the products of any identifiable markings, and they turn around and sell it. We used to get donations from Feed the Children—big boxes. The logo was a kid holding out his arms, so we would cut that off the box and then resell it. For stuff that was out of date, we would rub [the expiration date] off with acetone."

Mann notes that Arm Full of Help does give away some donations, fulfilling its mission at least in part. With food donations or surplus products that couldn't be sold, he says, the organization would actually donate the stuff to food banks and other charities. In the 1990s, Arm Full of Help was, in fact, a semi-regular donor to several food banks in New York City, including City Harvest and New York Rescue Mission. The organization even received a generic thank-you note from Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2001 for its "thoughtful and generous gift" after the 9/11 attacks. However, all of those former recipients said they hadn't received a single donation for a number of years.


"I was helped and benefited a lot from the ministry, but over time, I guess it was the 'Absolute power corrupts . . .' kind of thing," says Mann, who was a member of the church from the 1970s until 1995. He got out around the time that Alamo started collecting wives. Discouraged by law enforcement's seeming lack of interest in pursuing the polygamy and child-abuse allegations, Mann decided to take aim at Alamo's empire on his own. When Arm Full of Help inadvertently let its website domain name expire in 2006, he hijacked it. Mann says that "on a lark," he bought the domain, armfullofhelp.com, and publicized the connections between the charity and Alamo.

Where once it read "Here to Help the Poor and Needy Everywhere," Mann wrote "Established to Provide Funds to the Bizarre Cult of Convicted Felon Tony Alamo—Reputed Child Molester, Child Abuser, Rapist, Thief and Religious Huckster." Beneath that, he elaborated: "Arm Full of Help solicits and collects donations from large corporations all across America. These donated materials are then sold and much of the funds are used to support and finance Tony Alamo, his cult and his cultic activities. Knowing that no one in their right mind would fund his nefarious activities, the staff at Arm Full of Help are very careful not to reveal their connection to Alamo."

"I wanted to make sure people knew where their money was really going," Mann says. "They shouldn't solicit money under false pretenses." However, Mann's version of the website was up for only six months or so. The dispute ended up at the World Intellectual Property Organization, an agency of the United Nations that arbitrates international disputes over patents, trademarks, and domain names. Ultimately, Mann was forced to give up ownership of the website, but apparently his exercise in cyber-sabotage did little to convince Alamo to cover his tracks better.

When the Voice called Alamo's church office in Arkansas, church volunteer Jennifer Kolbeck seemed to think that she'd answered the phone for Arm Full of Help: She identified herself as a volunteer at Arm Full of Help's Arkansas branch and immediately launched into an explanation of how the charity and Alamo's church were, in fact, separate entities. She said that Alamo gave money, food, and clothing donations to Arm Full of Help, as well as many other nonprofits, but that was the extent of the connection. But Kolbeck answers the phones at both the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and Arm Full of Help, and she couldn't say who her boss was at Arm Full of Help. "I don't have that information," she said, seeming not to understand the term "executive director." (Many ex-members say they left the church simply because their kids weren't learning anything in the church-run schools.)

The combined income from both Arm Full of Help and Action Distributors—estimated to be around $4 million annually—has been key in rebuilding Alamo's church and funding the pastor's luxurious home in Fouke, Arkansas. There, Alamo has built a kid-friendly mansion complete with a swimming pool, horse stables, and multiple bedrooms for the many girls and women living with him—who numbered about 30, says Ondrisek, when he left the church three years ago. His younger sister is one of those girls.

Ondrisek says his sister began taking "field trips" to Alamo's house with other girls when she was just 10. "She would come back with, like, new clothes," he says. "By the time I was old enough to realize what was happening—it was just disgusting." Now, he says, she is 19 years old and lives full-time at Alamo's house as one of his "wives."


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