LITTLE ROCK — The attorney who won a $3 million judgment against accused Tony Alamo Christian Ministries “enforcer” John Kolbeck said Tuesday that he will ask a judge to appoint someone to represent Kolbeck’s estate so that efforts to collect the judgment can proceed after Kolbeck’s death.
Meanwhile, authorities in Kentucky said the death was determined to have been caused by congestive heart failure and that the body has been released to Kolbeck’s wife, Jennifer.
John Kolbeck, 51, had been sought by federal authorities since 2008 on a charge of second-degree battery in the beating of a teenage ministry member. He died Thursday at a house near Louisa, Ky., where authorities said his wife and seven children had been living for about eight months.
FBI spokesman Steve Frazier said Tuesday that the agency is investigating whether anyone helped Kolbeck elude capture.
“We’re definitely still looking at that,” Frazier said.
The $3 million judgment was awarded against Kolbeck in October 2009 after he failed to respond to the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Texarkana by former ministry members Seth Calagna and Spencer Ondrisek.
The two men said in the suit that Kolbeck beat them with an open hand and inchand-a-half-thick board at the direction of the ministry’s leader, Tony Alamo.
In a lawsuit filed this month in Miller County Circuit Court, attorney W. David Carter of Texarkana, Texas, is asking a judge to auction Kolbeck’s ownership interest in ministry properties, including a church complex in Fouke and an apartment complex, house, commercial building and vacant lot in Fort Smith, to satisfy the judgment.
Carter said Tuesday that he will ask the judge to appoint someone to represent Kolbeck’s estate, and that person will be served with the lawsuit.
“The case would proceed basically the same as it would if Mr. Kolbeck was still alive,” Carter said.
The suit names Jennifer Kolbeck as a defendant, but Carter said he has been unable to locate her. In a motion filed before John Kolbeck’s death last week, Carter asked a judge to allow John and Jennifer Kolbeck to be served with the lawsuit through a notice in the Texarkana Gazette. According to a proposed order filed with the motion, if Jennifer Kolbeck fails to respond within 30 days after the notice is published, the judge could issue a default judgment against her. The judge hasn’t ruled on the motion.
John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, an attorney for Alamo, said he spoke to Jennifer Kolbeck shortly after John Kolbeck’s death but didn’t know whether she would respond to Carter’s lawsuit. He said he didn’t yet know whether Alamo would attempt to intervene in the lawsuit.
The warrant for Kolbeck’s arrest was issued less than a month after a September 2008 raid on the Fouke complex by federal and state authorities investigating allegations of child pornography and sexual abuse.
Alamo, 75, was convicted in 2009 of taking five underage girls across state lines for sex in violation of the federal Mann Act and was sentenced to 175 years in prison.
Kolbeck, meanwhile, had eluded capture despite being featured on multiple occasions by the Fox television show America’s Most Wanted. The FBI had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services had sought protective custody of the Kolbecks’ four children, as well as three under the Kolbecks’ care who belong to a former ministry member.
After John Kolbeck’s death, however, the department determined it no longer had the authority to take the children, in part because the Kolbecks were no longer residents of Arkansas, department spokesman Julie Munsell said. She said the department forwarded information on the case to child-welfare authorities in Kentucky.
Vicki Franklin, a spokesman for the Kentucky Health and Family Services, said Tuesday her department does not release information on its investigations.
Lawrence County, Ky., Sheriff Garrett Roberts said that when he went to the house near Louisa on Thursday, Jennifer Kolbeck initially identified herself to him as “Michelle Jones” and her husband as “John Jones.” Later, however, Jennifer Kolbeck provided Army discharge papers and other records listing her husband’s correct name, Roberts said.
Roberts said Jennifer Kolbeck told him she had been separated from her husband but picked him up on Jan. 11 at a sandwich shop in Sommerset, Ky., about three hours from Louisa, after he called her and said he was ill.
“She said that he was very weak and dehydrated and just felt bad, couldn’t keep anything down,” Roberts said.
On Thursday, Roberts said John Kolbeck became short of breath and was going to lie down when he told his wife, “I feel like I’m dying.”
Roberts said the house sits near the road on 248 acres of farmland and that someone in the ministry had a contract to buy from the owner, who lives in South Carolina.
Lawrence County Coroner Mike Wilson said he released the body to Jennifer Kolbeck, who told him she planned to take the body to “the church,” which he assumed meant the Alamo Ministries.
Roberts said Jennifer Kolbeck has since left Louisa, but Benjamin Kolbeck, one of Jennifer Kolbeck’s adult sons, was left at the house to take care of the cattle, horses, goats, chickens and ducks on the property.
“He says he’s talked to his mother and that she’s due back” after the funeral, Roberts said.
Arkansas, Pages 9 on 01/19/2011