The alleged enforcer of evangelist Tony Alamo must pay $3 million in restitution to two boys he’s believed to have beaten bloody on the preacher’s behalf and left haunted for life, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Court Judge Harry F. Barnes’ order comes as alleged enforcer John Kolbek remains a fugitive on a felony battery warrant stemming from one of the beatings. Kolbek disappeared after FBI agents and Arkansas State Police troopers raided Alamo’s Fouke compound more than a year ago looking for evidence the evangelist kept underage girls as “wives” that he sexually abused.
No phone number is listed for Kolbek, and no lawyers have appeared in court on his behalf. Judge Barnes ordered for newspaper ads to be placed to inform Kolbek of the lawsuit.
Though Kolbek remains missing, lawyer W. David Carter said his clients can collect on any of a number of properties listed in the man’s name across the country. Testimony at Alamo’s recent child-sex trial showed the evangelist ordered his trusted followers to put church property in their names to avoid the Internal Revenue Service.
Now, that might be the church’s ultimate undoing as Alamo awaits sentencing next month in his federal trial.
“That’s part of the purpose: to dismantle the enterprise that caused so much suffering,” Carter told The Associated Press after the court hearing Thursday.
Carter represented Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek, two men who grew up in the church. Each described a twisted world where trivial infractions caused beatings, punitive fasts and threats of damnation from Alamo. Ondrisek testified Thursday before Barnes. He’s previously described how Alamo once hit him three times himself, shouting: “You think I like doing this? I love doing this!”
Ondrisek has said Alamo also once shouted “Here’s Johnny!” when Kolbek arrived for a beating, mimicking Jack Nicholson’s line from the horror film “The Shining.”
Calagna did not attend the hearing, but offered a four-page statement describing how he still fears Alamo and Kolbek, the two men who he said “essentially robbed me of the first 18 years of my life.” He said he did landscaping, construction and night watch work on church properties starting at age 14. He also worked as a dishwasher and had to ride along with 18-wheelers delivering secondhand foods and other goods peddled by church businesses.
“I was never paid any monetary compensation for my work (except a one-time, small cash “bonus” at Christmas),” Calagna said. “I was not allowed to own any possessions of my own. Everything was held for the benefit of the ministry and its leaders.”
Calagna said he started to vomit after one attack by Kolbek. Another time, he said, he was 17 and Kolbek beat him with a board until it broke as other members held him down.
The latter beating came after Calagna said he made a sarcastic comment about Harry Potter.
“They were teaching me that thinking for myself was ’disobedient’ and that disobedience results in beatings,” Calagna said. “I came to believe that the beatings would purge me of evil and spare me from burning in hell.”
Carter asked Barnes to order Kolbek to pay each man $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Barnes agreed and, according to The Texarkana Gazette, told the courtroom: “There’s not enough money in this world that will wash away the emotional harm this has caused.”
Alamo, 75, still is named in the lawsuit, though Barnes split the two men’s hearings as Kolbek remains missing. Alamo is scheduled to answer to the allegations during a July 2010 jury trial.
Alamo remains in jail pending a Nov. 13 sentencing hearing over his federal conviction on a 10-count indictment accusing him of taking young girls across state lines for sex. He faces up to 175 years in prison and as much as $250,000 in fines for each count.
Carter said Alamo followers have attempted to pull Kolbek’s name off of properties in Fort Smith and Fouke, likely anticipating a judgment in the lawsuit. The lawyer said he would go to court if necessary to force the Alamo ministry into selling those properties off to satisfy Barnes’ judgment. He said he would examine other Alamo properties across the country to see if Kolbek had other financial interests.
“Because we can’t undo what happened, the only option the court has is to set a monetary amount about what they went through,” Carter said.