Angry letter alerts the law

Fighting words from a religious group that dislikes health inspectors alarm county officials.

The Orange County Register, September 2, 1995
By Yomi S. Wronge

COSTA MESA, CA - Marie Kolasinski is a little old lady with fluffy white hair who likes to make crafts and say prayers. But lately, she's been talking about how nice it would be to blow up the Health Department _ and her statements are getting her in hot water.

Kolasinski, 74, is one of the leaders of the Piecemakers, a religious commune that runs a large arts and crafts store on Adams Avenue. She says the county Health Department is driving her group mad with picky rules about the store's candy counter.

"That candy counter was planned by God and they come in and tell us it isn't good enough," railed Kolasinski, wearing a homespun dress decorated with cherries, apples and bananas. "I'm not going to kill 'em. God constrains me from doing it. But most of the American people are not constrained from doing it."

Kolasinski wrote an angry, profanity-laced letter to the Health Department on Aug. 1 that contained oblique references to the Oklahoma City bombing, mass deaths of public officials and the overthrow of the government.

"Take heed. We are being very gentle," the letter said. "The next people to rise up against you could get a little tougher ... like Oklahoma, for instance."

Health officials forwarded the letter to the FBI, the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Costa Mesa Police Department. The agencies are reviewing it to determine whether what it says constitutes criminal threats.

Health Department officials say the letter upset them and was just one more exchange in a long, unpleasant relationship with the Piecemakers.

"We took the letter quite seriously. The language in it was certainly very, very stark ... suggesting violence," said Dr. Hugh Stallworth, director of public health. "Of course I was concerned about the safety of my employees, especially with the mention of the Oklahoma City bombing."

Costa Mesa police Capt. Tom Lazar said his department is meeting with the Orange County District Attorney's Office and should have a decision on the letter next week.

But the Piecemakers, who isolate themselves in a world of quilting, embroidery floss, potpourri and worship, say it's hilarious that anyone could think they are dangerous.

"None of us even own a BB gun," Kolasinski said.

The Piecemakers were founded in 1968, live in small groups in homes, share their work and child care and call the government "usurpers of God's authority." They say only God has the authority to tell them what to do.

The 30- to 40-member group gradually built its business to a corporation with overseas contracts and a reported income of $3 million a year.

The trouble with the Health Department began June 27, when an inspector appeared at the store and was ordered out by some Piecemakers.

"They were quite, quite abrasive and rude," said Jim Huston, assistant director of environmental health.

The Piecemakers say they were just sick of inspectors irritating them with rules and snooping around their candy counter.

According to the county, the store isn't licensed to sell unwrapped candy _ which it does openly. To get a permit to sell unwrapped candy, the store would need to install three sinks, but the Piecemakers think that's unnecessary and expensive.

God disapproves of the codes, Kolasinski said.

A few years ago, the store's tea room was shut down by the Health Department for selling unwrapped food, including muffins, and because the Piecemakers refused to revamp its broom closet and committed other code violations, Kolasinski said.

And in June, Piecemakers irritated city officials by standing in front of some ficus trees in front of the store's warehouse that the city wanted to cut down. The city said the roots were breaking the sidewalks.

Piecemakers also had some internal strife in 1992. A couple said that group was an abusive religious cult that coerced them into donating their home to it. A Superior Court decision forced Piecemakers to return the home.

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