8/24/11 – TG: Former Alamo followers closer to collecting millions

Texarkana Gazette
August 24, 2011
By: Lynn LaRowe

Former Alamo followers closer to collecting millions

A Miller County circuit judge’s ruling Tuesday on properties connected to Tony Alamo Christian Ministries may be the first step in the collection of millions awarded to two former followers in a federal lawsuit.

Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna, two men who were beaten, starved, deprived of education and forced to labor unpaid as children raised in the ministry, were granted $1.5 million each in default judgments against John Kolbek, Tony Alamo’s 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound enforcer, by a federal judge in 2009. Kolbek was a fugitive, wanted by officials in Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Ark., when he died of a heart attack in January on a rural farm in Kentucky.

Kolbek was still a fugitive when Calagna’s and Ondrisek’s case went before a judge in Kolbek’s absence.

He was wanted by state officials for a battery involving Calagna and by federal officials for unlawful flight from prosecution.

Kolbek was listed as a 1/5 owner of properties in Fouke and Fort Smith, Ark., until December 2008. Kolbek signed quit claim deeds conveying his interest in the properties to other members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries after the battery warrant was issued. The change in ownership also followed the Sept. 20, 2008, raid of the ministry’s compound in Fouke and the filing of Ondrisek’s and Calagna’s suit.

Their attorney, David Carter of Texarkana, was granted a request Tuesday by Circuit Judge Joe Griffin to have the deeds signed by Kolbek, placing the properties in the names of other followers, declared null and void. That means Kolbek still owns 1/5 of the properties, including the main church building in Fouke and a Fort Smith apartment building, Jeanne Estates, appraised by the Sebastian County tax assessor at more than $1 million. Other properties are listed in the order as well.

Griffin’s order gives Carter the go-ahead to liquidate Kolbek’s interest in the properties to satisfy the $3 million he owes Ondrisek and Calagna per the federal court judgment.

“This order brings us one step closer to collecting what the judge ordered Kolbek to pay to Seth and Spencer in federal court,” Carter said.

But Kolbek isn’t the only one who has been ordered to compensate Ondrisek and Calagna for their suffering.

In June, a jury determined that Tony Alamo, whose given name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, should pay the men $33 million each for the suffering they endured at his direction.

Alamo’s attorney, John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, called the award “absurd” and has filed a request asking the judge to reduce the amount, claiming the verdict was motivated by “passion or prejudice.”

Alamo is currently serving a 175-year sentence at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. In July 2009, he was convicted by a jury of all 10 counts listed in a federal indictment accusing him of bringing five women he wed as children across state lines for sex.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the case.

In: 2011

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