10/23/09 – TG: Judge taps Alamo’s enforcer, Kolbek, for $3 million in damages

Texarkana Gazette
October 23, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Judge taps Kolbek for $3 million in damages

John Kolbek, fugitive associate of Tony Alamo, owes $3 million to two men who were brutally beaten by him as children, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

“The damage it has caused, emotionaly, physically and spiritually is almost beyond my comprehension,” said U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes. “I don’t think there’s enough money in this world that will wash away the emotional harm this has caused.”

Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek, both 19-year-old men who were raised in Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, were each awarded $500,000 in actual damages and $1 million apiece in punitive damages to be paid by Kolbek. Barnes considered testimony from Ondrisek, an affidavit from Calagna, testimony from the foster mother of Ondrisek’s sister and arguments from Texarkana attorney David Carter.

“They were beaten for being kids, your honor,” Carter said during his closing remarks. “This court is in a unique position to send a message to Mr. Kolbek and anyone else who might do this in the name of the Lord.”

The civil suit was filed by Carter on behalf of Ondrisek and Calagna in November 2008 and accused Kolbek and Tony Alamo of battery, false imprisonment, outrage and conspiracy. Carter can now begin the process of seizing assets belonging to Kolbek and liquidating them to satisfy the judgment.

When mail sent to Kolbek’s last address was returned and notices published in the Texarkana Gazette brought no response, Barnes ruled Kolbek’s silence amounted to an admission of guilt. The case against Kolbek was severed from Alamo’s and Thursday’s default judgment was entered against him alone.

The Ondrisek and Calagna case against Alamo is set for trial in July 2010.

Kolbek is wanted by state authorities for beating Calagna and by federal officials for unlawful flight from prosecution.

“He kept slapping me in the face with the whole force of his body. My mouth was full of blood,” Ondrisek testified about a beating he suffered from a 6’4, 250 pound Kolbek that began with hands and ended with a board. “The pain was so intense. I had to sleep on my stomach or my side for two weeks.”

Ondrisek was 12 when Kolbek bloodied him for digging in the dirt when he was supposed to be working. At age 14 he was beaten for playing with a spray bottle, and at 17 he was falsely accused of putting his hands on younger children, he testified.

During the beatings, Alamo and Kolbek would verbally taunt, provoke and sermonize, Ondrisek said.

After the first thrashing, Ondrisek said he realized he could be beaten at any time, for any thing, or for nothing. And if Kolbek, who normally lived on ministry property in Fort Smith, was in Fouke, it meant someone was in for a flogging with a thick, wooden paddle Kolbek wielded like a baseball bat.

“John Kolbek wrapped his sadistic need to beat children in the cloak of religion. They obviously convinced this flock that God’s will was whatever (Alamo) said it was, even if it meant watching your child be beat with a board,” Carter said, adding that the case has kept him up at night. “God’s love meant giving your daughter over at 12 years old to live with a man in his seventies.”

Just as they’d watched silently as Kolbek and Alamo beat their children, Richard and Debra Ondrisek, the only Alamo devotees in attendance, sat mutely in the courtroom Thursday morning. As she shook her head in disagreement with her son’s testimony, Debra Ondrisek’s pen moved quickly across the pad perched on her lap.

“Once, my dad looked away,” Ondrisek said. “Tony said my dad had to watch or he’d be beaten too.”

Richard Ondrisek’s expression didn’t change during his son’s time on the witness stand.

“I’m not going to talk about that,” Richard Ondrisek said after the hearing when asked if he believes his children should have been beaten.

Spencer Ondrisek testified his younger sister, who is in state custody, was also beaten by Kolbek and that his older sister, 20-year-old Alys Ondrisek, became an Alamo wife at age 10.

Calagna’s affidavit describes a stolen childhood.

“I feel as though Tony Alamo and John Kolbek essentially robbed me of the first 18 years of my life,” said Calagna’s affidavit. “I continue to have bad dreams about the beatings and verbal abuse.”

Calagna, who said he was beaten at 14 and 17, was unable to attend the hearing because of distance and expense, Carter said.

“I came to believe that the beatings would purge me of evil and spare me from burning in hell,” Calagna’s affidavit said.

His affidavit describes vomiting during a beating from “terror” and being held down while Kolbek struck him with a board. He said he also felt bad about the “distrust” his “church” and family instilled in him of the outside world.

“When they reached a point where they’d had enough the only place they had to go was outside, among the very people they’d been taught to fear,” Carter said moments before recommending the damages Barnes awarded. “Imagine the anguish of knowing your own parents won’t choose to protect you.”

The foster mother, who is a member of Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime, a faith-based foster child placement and advocacy service, said she has received harassing letters from Alamo members. She said the three girls she currently fosters believe Tony Alamo “ripped their families apart.”

Calagna and Ondrisek both said in testimony and via affidavit they were forced to work unpaid for as many as 70 hours per week, lack job skills and a basic education, were not allowed to own anything and have found adjusting to life on the outside a challenge.

“We have years and years of essentially the slave labor of children” and “ritualistic” beatings, Carter said. “Clearly, this was a violation of the law and, I would say, a violation of all standards of decency in a civilized society.”

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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