Defiant Orange County sect leader says county is 'wrestling with God'

Marie Kolasinski, leader of the quilt-making Piecemakers, is among those facing charges connected with the operation of the group's store and tearoom.

Los Angeles Times/November 21, 2006
By Kelly-Anne Suarez

Marie Kolasinski, 85, marched into Orange County Superior Court in Newport Beach on Monday looking like the revolutionary her spiritual followers believe her to be: The leader of the Piecemakers religious sect sported a camouflage-print skirt and matching beret paired with a stoic face.

"It's war," she whispered moments before the trial began.

She and two others are charged with a series of misdemeanors, including operating a restaurant without a permit and obstruction of justice.

The charges are the result of a confrontation last year between the Piecemakers and Costa Mesa police officers and county health inspectors.

Kolasinski, Doug Follette and Judy Haeger could face fines and up to one year in jail if convicted.

The Piecemakers, a community of 26, live together in Costa Mesa.

The group, made up of mostly elderly women, runs a homey store on Adams Avenue that features handmade quilts, craft supplies and a small tearoom that serves sandwiches, soups and sweets.

For some years, the group has barred county health inspectors from its facility, citing freedom of religion as justification.

After a final failed attempt to inspect the store in October 2005, county investigator Gregory Horton obtained a warrant and entered the site with inspectors and Costa Mesa police, he testified Monday.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Steiner played several videotapes of the incident, which showed defiant Piecemakers spewing profanities and Kolasinski demanding, "Give me liberty or give me death."

When she tried to snatch a thermometer from an inspector's hands, officers arrested her.

The footage caused several jurors to laugh, but Kolasinski appeared shaken, wiping away tears as she watched the video that showed her being dragged to a police car in handcuffs as her friends screamed vulgarities and pulled at officers.

County health inspector Dino Jerro testified that some food items he tested in the tearoom were not at the proper temperature, constituting a "major" health violation.

He also said the facility sold food that wasn't prepackaged, a violation of its permit.

Although the Piecemakers haven't put on their defense, Kolasinski said in an interview last week that they believe that God created the United States and that God should rule over it.

She said she and her religious followers would make every effort to keep their store clean of "the devil" — the government — which tries to lord it over them "with a big hatchet."

"They've got so many laws, I'm afraid to put my foot out the door," she said.

She decided to take a stand. "You won't have the land of the free unless you get the home of the brave," she said. "We need some brave people."

As for her foul language on the videotape, Kolasinski said that although she hated using those words, she felt that they were "the only thing they can hear."

It wasn't the first time the group had run into trouble with the government. In 1997, Piecemakers were prosecuted for putting on the musical "Big River" in their parking lot without a city permit.

Kolasinski and an associate were sued for libel in 2001 after calling two county code investigators "Gestapo whores," "rapists" and "Martian reptiles." The suit was settled for $20,000 a year later.

And in 1995, the FBI investigated the commune after members sent a letter to county officials that was sprinkled with salty language and also included a reference to the fatal bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

Agents concluded that the group did not represent a serious threat.

Outside the courthouse Monday, a half-dozen Piecemakers stood beside quilts that they said commemorated their plight. One quilt showed a map of the United States illustrating various livelihoods, including farming and industry. A chain that bound the country is shown breaking.

"Hopefully, the chains of the law will break, and we'll see a return to God," said Piecemaker Deborah Scherfee, 53, explaining the patchwork's symbolism.

After the day's proceedings, Kolasinski seethed.

"We could have nailed those guys," she said, contending that the only reason the soup in the tearoom was at an improper temperature was that it hadn't been heated up yet.

But "it's OK," she said. "We're going to win anyway. We have to for America's sake. They're not wrestling with Piecemakers; they're wrestling with God."

The country store remains open for business.

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