LITTLE ROCK — Two former members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries want a judge to auction the ministry’s church in southwest Arkansas and other property to satisfy a $3 million judgment against a man described by authorities as the ministry’s “enforcer.”
Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna won the judgment against John Kolbeck in October 2009 after Kolbeck failed to respond to a lawsuit the two filed against him in U.S. District Court in Texarkana. The men said in the suit that Kolbeck beat them with an open hand and an inch-and-a-half-thick board at the direction of the ministry’s leader, Tony Alamo.
Kolbeck, a federal fugitive, has been sought since2008 on a charge of second degree battery in a beating that Calagna said he received at a ministry warehouse in Fort Smith when he was 17.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Miller County Circuit Court, Ondrisek and Calagna are asking a judge to auction Kolbeck’s ownership interest in the church complex in Fouke, as well as his interest in an apartment complex, house, commercial building and vacant lot in Fort Smith, to satisfy the federal lawsuit judgment.
According to property records, the church complex property in Fouke includes a cafeteria, school, gymnasium and at least four houses. Assessor’s records in Sebastian and Miller counties list the properties in Fouke and Fort Smith as having an appraised value totaling $2.8 million.
Although the records no longer list Kolbeck as an owner of the properties, the lawsuit says that’s because Kolbeck fraudulently transferred his ownership interest to other church members and entities after the federal lawsuit was filed in November 2008. The lawsuit asks a judge to reinstate Kolbeck as a partial owner of the properties.
W. David Carter of Texarkana, Texas, the attorney for Ondrisek and Calagna, said the judge could then auction off Kolbeck’s stake in the properties to satisfy the award. He said the judge could also auction full ownership of the properties and distribute the proceeds among current owners, with Kolbeck’s share going to Calagna and Ondrisek.
“It’s important that those who were victimized recover what they’re entitled to, and it’s equally important to punish those who prepare fraudulent documents in order to escape a lawful judgment ordered against them,”Carter said.
Federal prosecutors, who won a $2.5 million restitution award against Alamo, could also have an interest in the property.
The restitution was awarded last year to five women who say Alamo took them as “wives” and had sex with them when they were minors. Alamo was convicted in 2009 of taking the women across state lines for sex while they were underage, and he was sentenced to 175 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debbie Groom said Wednesday that prosecutors will use “all the tools at our disposal” to collect the restitution award. The effort has been stayed, however, while Alamo’s criminal case is on appeal. Groom declined to comment on what assets prosecutors might seize to pay the restitution.
Carter also represents the five accusers from the criminal case, along with two other women, in a federal lawsuit that alleges that church members failed to protect the women from Alamo’s abuse.
Carter said he would “cooperate with the federal authorities to develop whatever information we can to place money in the hands of the victims.”
Attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, who is handling Alamo’s appeal in the criminal case, said Wednesday that he didn’t know yet whether Alamo would seek to intervene in the attempt by Ondrisek and Calagna to have the church property auctioned.
Prosecutors have said Alamo in recent years often listed ministry property under the names of multiple church members to protect it from legal action by authorities. That was a lesson he learned, they said, after he was convicted of tax evasion and ordered to pay six former members $1.4 million in damages in a civil lawsuit in the 1990s.
Federal marshals auctioned the ministry’s compound in Dyer to pay the 1990 judgment, with some of the money going to the Internal Revenue Service to satisfy tax debts owed by Alamo and the church.