6/3/11 – TG: Jury awards $66 million in suit. Former Alamo followers awarded for physical, psychological suffering ***COMMENTS***

Texarkana Gazette
June 3, 2011
By: Lynn LaRowe

Jury awards $66 million in suit.
Former Alamo followers awarded for physical, psychological suffering

A jury awarded two former members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries $66 million in damages Thursday in a civil suit against the jailed evangelist.

“Any amount that’s awarded can’t change what happened. I’d trade it all for a normal life,” plaintiff Seth Calagna said.

“I’m excited people actually believed my story and didn’t take me for a liar,” Spencer Ondrisek said. “I’m just happy the truth came out.”

The jury found Alamo is guilty of battery, outrage and conspiracy in connection with the physical, psychological and spiritual abuse suffered by the two men as children raised in the ministry. Texarkana attorney David Carter filed the suit on behalf of Calagna, 21, and Ondrisek, 20, in November 2008, just a couple of months after Alamo was arrested for bringing five women he’d wed as children across state lines for sex.

Alamo is serving a 175-year sentence at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

“This isn’t a church, ladies and gentlemen. It is a cult, and he is a cult leader,” Carter said in his closing remarks. “And what do cult leaders do? Convince, control and scare.”

Carter referred to testimony during the trial that Alamo’s followers believe he is a prophet to whom God directly speaks. Alamo’s control over money, property and ministry businesses made members dependent, Carter said. The system of members “reporting” each other and the isolation from outsiders increased Alamo’s control.

Carter said Alamo made the government “the boogeyman,” scaring followers with threats of beatings, forced fasts and an eternity in hell.

Carter described Alamo as charismatic and compared him to Jim Jones and David Koresh.

Jones led hundreds of people to commit mass suicide by drinking poison-laced punch in the 1970s. Koresh and his followers died in a fire after a months-long standoff with law enforcement in the 1990s.

Carter said Alamo created a “voiceless hell” for children whose parents followed Alamo and willingly allowed him to beat their children and marry their young daughters.

“I don’t have the words to articulate just how evil this man is,” Carter said.

Carter asked the jury to assess punitive damages in the case in an amount that would “make his eyes roll back in his head.” He conceded the sum might be uncollectable because of Alamo’s practice of placing his assets in the names of his followers.

The jury awarded each man $3 million for past and future pain, suffering and mental anguish. Damages meant to punish Alamo were awarded at $30 million for each man.

Alamo’s defense attorney, John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, called the amount “absurd” and vowed to ask U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant to reduce it. Hall also said he will appeal the verdict.

Ondrisek and Calagna were awarded $1.5 million each by U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes in a separate proceeding against Alamo’s alleged enforcer, John Kolbek. Carter has filed a petition in Miller County Circuit Court seeking to gain control of properties Kolbek transferred the titles of to other ministry members.

The case against Kolbek was severed from Alamo’s because he never answered the suit.

Kolbek was a fugitive, wanted for beating Calagna at Alamo’s behest, when he died earlier this year on a rural farm in Kentucky. He was living with his wife and children.

Ondrisek and Calagna testified they were slapped and beaten with a thick wooden paddle by Kolbek until they were bruised and bloody. Witnesses for Alamo denied the beatings were excessive, saying the Bible sanctions the practice.

Carter took issue with the defense’s interpretation of the Bible. He said parents are supposed to protect children.

Calagna’s and Ondrisek’s parents were present during at least some of their beatings. Calagna’s mother, Barbara Calagna, testified Wednesday that she thinks Alamo and Kolbek are heroes.

Carter reminded the jury of the testimony of Greg Seago, an Alamo loyalist for about 30 years, who lost custody of his children because he refused to find housing and employment outside Alamo Ministries.

“All the witnesses they called are still drinking the Kool-Aid,” Carter said in reference to the Jim Jones massacre.

Carter pointed out that Ondrisek and Calagna were infants when U.S. District Judge Morris Arnold awarded more than $1 million to the family of Justin Miller for a public beating he received in California as an 11-year-old.

“They never changed their policy. They never changed their practice. They’ve ignored the orders of a United States District judge for 21 years,” Carter said.

Randall Harris, a Texarkana private investigator and forensic accountant, praised Calagna and Ondrisek. He headed the investigation that led to Alamo’s conviction.

“I am proud of the courage shown by these young men,” said Harris, who retired from the FBI in 2010. “I believe this verdict and the amount of the award should send a clear message to Mr. Alamo and those who follow him blindly.”

In: 2011

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2 Posts

  1. JEDH Says:

    I am very happy that the outcome was the correct one. I knew Barbara Calagna many years ago; it’s hard to believe she is still deceived, after all these years.

  2. Ex-Alamo Says:

    I spent several months in the cult and I so happy that this man has been put in jail. He hurt me very bad spiritually. All I wanted to do was love Jesus and follow him, but Alamo made Jesus to look like He wanted everyone to burn in hell alive, even me, who loved Jesus and still do. Alamo members, please come to your senses. I am praying for you.

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