11/17/08 – FBI issued a warrant charging “Enforcer”, Kolbeck, with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
November 17, 2008

FORT SMITH : Alamo beating allegation spurs battery charge

FORT SMITH — When Tony Alamo wanted to punish disobedience within his church, authorities say, one of the people he would call on was his 6-foot-4-inch, 260-pound “enforcer,” John Kolbeck.

At a court hearing last month, Spencer Ondirsek, 18, testified that Kolbeck punched him in the face several times, then struck him on the buttocks about 30 times with a 3-foot-long wooden paddle during the three beatings Ondirsek received over the years, beginning when Ondirsek was 12 or 13.

Seth Calagna, also 18, told Fort Smith police that, during a beating in January or February, Kolbeck had struck him with a board about 20 times, resulting in bruises on his buttocks that were still visible several months later.

After learning of Calagna’s beating, Fort Smith police obtained a warrant for Kolbeck’s arrest on a charge of second-degree battery, but they have been unable to find him. On Nov. 6, federal authorities issued a warrant charging Kolbeck with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

“We are asking members of the public who might have some information about his whereabouts to contact us,” FBI spokesman Steve Frazier said. He asked people with information to call the FBI office in Little Rock at (501 ) 221-9100.

Alamo, the 74-year-old head of a multistate ministry with headquarters in Fouke, is set for trial in February on charges of transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. His arrest on Sept. 25 was five days after more than 100 state and federal police officers and child protective services caseworkers raided the Fouke compound and removed six girls, ages 10 to 17, whom they said had been physically or sexually abused.

Alamo has denied that church members have been abused, and some of his followers testified at the Oct. 22 detention hearing in Texarkana that the church does not administer beatings.

Kolbeck, 49, joined Alamo’s church in the 1970 s in Arizona and has lived in the Fort Smith area, where Alamo has a church and controls businesses, houses and an apartment complex, for the past 10 to 15 years, authorities said.

About two years ago, Kolbeck moved with his wife and five children into an old, white twostory house in downtown Fort Smith, said Vircy Williams, who lives and runs a hair salon in a house next door. A few days after the raid in Fouke, the Kolbecks moved out, Williams said.

He said he found Kolbeck to be friendly and had spoken with him several times, sometimes about Kolbeck’s religion.

“Just from living next door, my thought was that they had pleasant family,” Williams said.

Kolbeck has been in trouble with the law at least once before, in 1985, when he and another church member were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and defacing a public building for putting up anti-Catholic posters in Chattanooga, Tenn.

In Fort Smith, Kolbeck rose to the attention of police in 2006, after an anonymous caller reported that a 13-year-old girl was being married to a 34-year-old man at the church on Windsor Drive.

Kolbeck was at the church when officers arrived. He told police he had performed a wedding but that everyone had already left.

An officer wrote in his report that he asked Kolbeck how old the bride was. Kolbeck responded, “She is about this tall,” and raised his hand to his chest.

“I asked him if the bride was 13 years old and he stated maybe,” the officer wrote. Police classified the report as a possible rape but have not made any arrests.

Calagna told police he had been living in a metal warehouse in an industrial area near the Arkansas River, working at an Alamo-controlled salvage business, when he was beaten by Kolbeck earlier this year.

Someone told Calagna he looks like Harry Potter, and Calagna responded with a sarcastic remark that was reported to Alamo.

A day or so later, Calagna, who was 17 at the time, said he was on the phone, talking to his father, when a church member grabbed him. Calagna told police that Kolbeck then walked in, accused Calagna of trying to run away and began slapping him in the face.

While other church members watched, Calagna said Kolbeck then had him stretch out on the warehouse floor and struck him with the board about 20 times, taunting Calagna between strikes. Then, Kolbeck had church members pull down Calagna’s thermal underwear, and he struck him five to seven more times until the board broke, Calagna told police.

Calagna told police that he had also been beaten once before, in Fouke, and had also seen his father beaten. Other church members described similar beatings, police said.

In a report, Fort Smith police Detective Kristine Deason said FBI agents told her that Calagna was reluctant to talk at first. Church members “have been taught that law enforcement was evil,” Deason wrote.

In an interview, Deason said she believes Kolbeck’s associates are helping him hide. Church members have been polite but say they don’t know where Kolbeck is, Deason said.

In Kolbeck’s neighborhood in Fort Smith, residents said the church members seldom speak to them, but they often see the children playing or working in the yard.

Williams said members of Alamo’s church bought the house where Kolbeck lived, as well as the one on the other side of Williams’ home and salon, about eight years ago and renovated them. Church members have been living in the houses ever since, Williams said.

A van picks up the children every morning and drops them off in the afternoon. The children and adults then head out again about 6 p.m. and return about 3: 30 a. m., Williams said.

Occasionally, Kolbeck would leave with his wife and children for a few weeks, explaining that he was going “to market,” Williams said. When he returned, Kolbeck would sometimes have a teenage boy who would stay with the family for a while, Williams said.

Kolbeck mentioned that he was once a lumberjack, and he credited the church for helping him turn his life around, Williams said.

During another conversation, Williams noted that the Alamo church was similar to communism.

Kolbeck “said you make it work by having a good structure of leaders,” Williams said. “I said, ‘ OK, if you’ve got that, you can make it work. But I haven’t seen it work yet. ’”

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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