Commune's Tough Talk Investigated

Religion: Christian group's profane letter alarms county officials with reference to Oklahoma City bombing. But Piecemakers say they just want to end dispute with health inspectors.

Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1995
By Geoff Bouchertimes

COSTA MESA - A vitriolic letter from a controversial local Christian commune to county officials is being reviewed by police and criticized by the city's mayor.

Laced with salty language, the three-page letter includes a reference to the April bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, and maintains that God "is about to get rid of all of you, so if I were you I would get on my knees and ask God's forgiveness for the harm done to his people."

The letter was from the Piecemakers, a Christian enclave that operates an Adams Avenue country store and bakery, who have been feuding with county Health Department inspectors. It concludes: "Take heed. We are being very gentle. The next people to rise up against you could get a little tougher . . . like Oklahoma, for instance."

One of the letter's authors, Marie Kolasinski, leader of the Piecemakers, said the document is merely a declaration of the group's frustration with county officials.

But government officials said the Aug. 1 missive appears to contain a threatening subtext. Costa Mesa Mayor Joe Erickson called it "alarming."

"I can understand frustration with red tape and bureaucracy, but I think making references to the Oklahoma City bombing and people dying is not appropriate," Erickson said. "The profanity is unprofessional, but my big objection are the threats. That's not funny and, these days, not helpful."

Costa Mesa detectives are reviewing the letter and conferring with the district attorney's office to determine whether any laws have been violated, Police Capt. Tom Lazar said Thursday. County health officials also have forwarded copies of the letter to the FBI and the Sheriff's Department.

Commune leaders scoffed Thursday at the attention given their letter, describing their group as a peace-loving collection of people seeking to lead a simple life, free of government interference.

At one point, though, the letter states, "We have a legion of people behind us who are willing to die if it means their death will give America back to the people."

Kolasinski chuckled Thursday when she heard the response to her handiwork. As she sat in the store's upstairs tea room, whose walls are lined with the commune's popular quilts, half a dozen women gathered to hear her read the letter aloud. The profanities made some of the tea-sipping listeners chuckle.

"Because I don't have any power, I have to use four-letter words to get their attention," the 74-year-old Kolasinski said. "We're just some little old ladies. What can we do to them? They want us to go bankrupt, like they already have."

The dispute that led to the letter concerns health code violations at the tea room and baked goods concession in the two-story, 12,000-square-foot store that provides the commune with its income. Kolasinski argues that inspectors have unfairly targeted the operation, contending that citations for kitchen tile color and the number of on-site sinks defy "common sense."

County Health Officer Dr. Hugh F. Stallworth said specific details of the store's health code violations were not available Thursday. Though the site has had ongoing problems, it is held to no different standard than other food-serving businesses, he said.

Stallworth added that he has concerns about inspectors visiting the store in the future.

"It was a scathing communication," Stallworth said. "Given some of the language, I was concerned not only about the safety of my employees, my staff, but also about other people in the community."

The Piecemakers began more than 20 years ago as a group of quilt-makers working from a garage. The group, which lives in several homes in the Casa Loma neighborhood near the store, has grown and, Kolasinski said, gained international acclaim for its distinctive crafts. Locally, though, the group has had to fight against being labeled a cult, she conceded.

The Piecemakers were sued in 1992 by former members who wanted their home back after signing it over to the commune. The former members said the group used physical and emotional intimidation on them, a claim commune members flatly denied. That suit was dropped when the group returned the home, but national coverage of the case brought unwanted attention to the commune.

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