12/30/08 – Lawyer: Alamo denies complaints

Texarkana Gazette
December 30, 2008
By Lynn LaRowe

Lawyer: Alamo denies complaints
Little Rock attorney files response to former followers’ civil lawsuit

Tony Alamo’s lawyer filed a one-sentence answer last week to a civil lawsuit that asks that Alamo and a fugitive associate be made to pay damages for the alleged abuse of former followers.

“Defendant Hoffman/Alamo, as to that which has not been already addressed by a motion to dismiss, without waiving the motions to dismiss, generally denies the complaint,” reads the answer filed by John Wesley Hall Jr. of LIttle Rock on Dec. 24.

Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, is being sued in federal court by two 18-year-old former followers who claim to have been beaten, starved and forced to labor unpaid while living on Alamo Ministries properties.

Their complaint, filed by Texarkana lawyer David Carter in November, marked the beginning of the lawsuit.

Usually when a defendant files a response to allegations made in a civil complaint, the accusations are specifically refuted or generally denied one by one, point by point—unlike Hall’s one-line answer.

Hall filed three motions earlier this month.

Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek allege they were repeatedly struck by John Kolbek at Alamo’s direction with a 6-foot-long wooden paddle specially fashioned to deliver “corrections” by a church member. Both men claim they were beaten with the paddle until bruised and bleeding.

Kolbek is wanted by federal and state authorities. In Sebastian County, where Fort Smith, Ark., is located, a warrant for second-degree battery in connection to a beating Calagna allegedly suffered is active.

Federal officials have issued a warrant for Kolbek for unlawful flight from prosecution.

On Monday, Carter formally filed responses to two of Hall’s three motions and offered comments on Hall’s most recent filing.

The most recent, filed Dec. 23, asks the court to dismiss references to Alamo’s religious practices from the plaintiffs’ complaint.

The motion argues that Alamo’s constitutionally protected right to practice the religion of his choice would be violated if the court allows certain language in the complaint to remain.

In particular, the motion took issue with Carter’s claim that, “Alamo has engaged in and directed the use of a number of practices designed to control, punish, intimidate and injure church members, including minors.

“Specifically, minor children, including the plaintiffs … were regularly, repeatedly and systematically exposed to the following: prolonged withholding of food, known as fasting, severe physical beatings and verbal abuse,” the complaint states.

Hall’s motion to remove the references is based on the First Amendment.

“Defendant submits that all of these fall within the ambit of defendant’s religious beliefs …” the motion states.

Carter disagrees.

“The latest motion reflects Mr. Alamo’s unique view of the world. He asks the court not to address religious beliefs, yet he refers to scripture 30 times in doing so. We don’t intend to make this a trial about Mr. Alamo’s religious beliefs. Abusing and beating children is wrong. Period,” Carter said.

“Mr. Alamo has the right to freely exercise his religion. But that right is not without limits. He can no more have children ritualistically beaten bloody with a board than he can offer up a human sacrifice. Some of the most atrocious acts in history have been carried out in the name of religion,” Carter said.

But Hall says the actions taken were not beatings.

“They were spankings of unruly children, not ‘beatings,’” Hall’s motion states.

Hall’s motion also notes the punishments were administered with parental consent and describes fasting and under-age marriages as sanctioned by the Bible.

Numerous examples from Biblical stories are referred to in Hall’s motion.

“Abusers have a variety of justifications for what they do,” Carter said. “It just so happens that Mr. Alamo’s excuse is that he is doing all this in the name of the Lord.”

The first motion filed by Hall in the case Dec. 18 asks that “prejudicial matter” be stricken from Carter’s original complaint.

Hall argued that statements regarding Alamo’s anti-Catholic views, criminal history, designation of his ministry as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and pending federal indictment should be stricken because they serve only to “stigmatize” the defendant.

Alamo is being held in a jail cell in downtown Texarkana. He has been charged criminally by federal officials in the Western District of Arkansas on 10 alleged violations of the Mann Act, a law that makes it a crime to bring a minor across state lines for sex.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant declined to grant pretrial release at Alamo’s detention hearing because of a continued threat to the community and risk of flight he believes Alamo presents.

The 74-year-old is set for trial in February.

Carter’s brief in response to Hall’s motion alleges Alamo “falls short” of demonstrating prejudice in the complaint.

“First, Alamo’s views and disputed criminal history have been widely distributed by Alamo and TACM (Tony Alamo Christian Ministries) itself,” Carter’s motion states. “Until his recent incarceration, Alamo delivered weekly radio ‘messages’ and his followers are well known for distributing his views in the forms of fliers.”

Carter argues that the “challenged allegations” are considered public knowledge and meant only to provide a background in the complaint.

Carter attached a copy of an Alamo “World Newsletter” to the motion as an exhibit.

“It’s all still hearsay and they still can’t prove it,” Hall said via phone Monday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Innocence Project Director, Mark Potock, said “ideology” is the basis for a group receiving designation as a hate group. Being labeled a hate group by the SPLC does not imply criminal wrongdoing, only an organized ideology that lessens the value of one group as relative to another, Potock said.

Carter also filed a brief in response to Hall’s Dec. 21 motion to dismiss a claim of conspiracy from the civil complaint.

Hall wrote that conspiracy could not be alleged as a separate count of wrongdoing, a tort, under Arkansas law and asked the court to dismiss it from the complaint.

“A finding of civil conspiracy makes participants in that conspiracy responsible for all damages caused by conduct committed pursuant to the conspiracy. Civil conspiracy is therefore a legal claim,” Carter wrote.

No rulings have come from the bench concerning the civil suit and no hearings have been scheduled in the case.

In: 2000-2007

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