10/23/08 – Ondrisek: Alamo introduced Kolbeck by saying, “’Here’s Johnny!”’

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
October 22, 2008
By Chuck Bartels, The Associated Press

Judge orders evangelist Alamo held until trial

A federal magistrate concluded Wednesday that evangelist Tony Alamo is a threat to public safety and ordered him held until his trial on charges that he took minors across state lines for sex.

U.S. Magistrate Barry Bryant ordered the 74-year-old defendant detained after former Alamo followers testified that they were beaten at his instruction and that he practiced polygamy with several young women, including a 9-year-old girl.

Alamo was arrested in Arizona five days after the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke was raided Sept. 20. Six girls were taken into state custody for their protection.

In announcing his ruling, Bryant noted that the defendant was charged with a violent crime and that evidence indicates a crime was committed. The judge said he also considered that Alamo fled in 1989 on a California child-abuse charge and was arrested two years later in Tampa, Fla., living under an assumed name. In addition, Bryant said, Alamo has access to vehicles, including tractor-trailers.

“There is serious risk (Alamo) will flee or fail to appear,” Bryant said.

Testimony included mentions of various Alamo-controlled businesses, including a trucking firm, a New Jersey warehouse, clothing manufacturing and other enterprises. Witnesses described ministry locations in a number of states, including California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Tennessee, in addition to the Fouke and Fort Smith properties.

Witnesses testified that none of the properties, businesses or vehicles were in Alamo’s name, which Bryant considered as a point against letting Alamo free.

After the ruling, Alamo stood and looked out at the courtroom gallery but said nothing. He was led away by U.S. marshals. His trial is scheduled for Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, Arkansas State Police executed a second search warrant at the Alamo compound in southwestern Arkansas. State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed troopers served a warrant on the compound Wednesday morning, but said he had no other details.

Fouke Mayor Terry Purvis said state police stayed several hours at the compound, just off U.S. 71 on the outskirts of town. Julie Munsell, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said her agency did not take part in Wednesday’s search.

At the detention hearing, Spencer Ondirsek, 18, testified that he had known Alamo all his life and that he spent seven years in the Fouke compound. He left the Alamo group last year. He said his two older brothers also left but his parents and three siblings remained.

Ondirsek, the first witness called by prosecutors, said he was beaten by a man identified as John Kolbeck, who was working under Alamo’s direction. Ondirsek testified that he was hit about 15 times in the face and smacked about 30 times with a three-foot paddle on three separate instances. He said he was being disciplined for minor misbehavior, such as playing around with a spray bottle.

FBI Special Agent Randall Harris said an arrest warrant has been issued for Kolbeck.

After each beating, Ondirsek said it took a week or so before he could sit. He said the third was the worst.

“My eyes were wide open and I couldn’t see anything,” he said.

Ondirsek testified that Alamo introduced Kolbeck by saying, “’Here’s Johnny!”’ He likened the cadence of the words to Jack Nicholson in the movie “The Shining,” when Nicholson’s character is terrorizing his family.

The first beating happened when he was 12 or 13, Ondirsek testified.

Jael Sprinkle, 32, testified that she was taken as Alamo’s wife at age 17 and was considered his wife for two years. She said Alamo had five other wives at the time and she knew of his taking a 9-year-old girl as his wife.

Sprinkle said she was beaten, her parents were beaten, and others, including a 12-year-old boy, were beaten while in the organization. She said the boy was paddled to the point where he was bleeding through his clothes and he could only walk with assistance.

Sprinkle also described the control Alamo had over people in his organization, down to requiring his approval for expenses such as toilet paper and toothpaste. She said that, while he served a tax-evasion conviction in prison, his followers took orders from him, apparently after taping his voice over the phone and playing the tape for other members.

“He told us to do it and we did it if he would call,” she said.

She also described a system under which members would report on each other, with Alamo determining discipline.

Angela Morales, 35, who was identified by Sprinkle as one of Alamo’s wives but who denied being one, acknowledged there was a discipline system but said she saw no beatings.

Defense lawyers also called Ronald and Joan Decker, a couple that has belonged to Alamo’s church, who said they would move from Fort Smith to Texarkana to watch over Alamo if he was granted release.

Ronald Decker said he drives a truck for Advantage Food, which he described as a partnership, though he couldn’t come up with a figure when Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner asked him how much he earned. He later said Alamo paid for all the couple’s living expenses.

“Pastor Alamo controls the church,” Decker said.

Jenner asked Decker if he knew Kolbeck. Decker said Kolbeck used to attend the church.

“I haven’t seen him around in awhile,” he said.

Decker denied that he knew Kolbeck as an “enforcer” for Alamo and, at first, denied seeing any beatings.

“Beatings or spankings?” he asked. “There’s many ways discipline is enforced, not just by spanking.”

After long pauses when asked by Jenner whether he was aware Alamo orders paddlings, Decker said, “Yes.”

Morales said she served as an assistant to Alamo, helping him with doctor visits and with his radio broadcasts, sometimes recording six one-hour segments in a day. Alamo, who is legally blind, needed a screen that would vastly magnify text so he could read it.

Defense lawyer Patrick Benca argued that Alamo would not be able to participate in his own defense without the special equipment, but Bryant didn’t address that concern in his ruling.

Benca and defense lawyer John Wesley Hall Jr. argued that electronic monitoring and drop-in visits by probation officers could ensure that Alamo would not flee. Hall suggested that jail would not keep a determined inmate from threatening a witness. But Bryant said Alamo didn’t meet a single condition that would merit his release.

Alamo, who is listed in court documents by his real name of Bernie Lazar Hoffman, has pleaded not guilty to the two charges, each of which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The charging document accuses Alamo of taking a 13-year-old girl across state lines for sex in 2004 and of aiding and abetting her transport across state lines for sex in 2005.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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