Son Says Maranatha Leader Made Brothers Beat Mother

WCCO CBS News, Minnesota/August 18, 2014

Minneapolis -- The son of the leader of a religious group in southeastern Minnesota described a life of abuse and control in front of a judge on Monday.

“It was definitely a cult, and it was dominated by one person, and that was my dad,” Kipp Tollefsrud said. “Everybody was in their own private hell.”

His was the latest testimony in a contentious trial against a religious group called Maranatha Fellowship in Spring Grove.

The case itself centers around two pieces of property. A couple who spent 35 years in the group says they left with nothing. The group’s leader Tom Tollefsrud maintains that everything belongs to the group itself, not individual members.

The Houston County case has divided a small town.

Adopted as a baby, Kipp Tollefsrud hasn’t spoken to his father in 22 years. He recalled how his brother crushed his finger in a farming accident. He said his dad told him it happened because of his sins.

“That’s when he grabs his hand and starts beating on his finger that’s already crushed,” Kipp Tollefsrud said.

On another occasion, he said all of his brothers were forced to beat their own mother while their father looked on.

The attorney representing Maranatha told WCCO’s Liz Collin the stories of abuse and control against his client are not true.

“This case is about property. It’s not about religion. It’s not about these other things that have been talked about,” lawyer Jeffrey Thompson said.

Tom Tollefsrud himself was not in court on Monday to hear any of the testimony. His attorney said he had no reason to be.

John Solum spent 25 years in the group. At one point, five of his brothers were members. He said Tom Tollefsrud made sure they always prayed for the same thing.

“There was a whole group of men in a circle and he went around slapping and beating us with a belt,” Solum said. “He for all these years had been wanting to be anointed by the Angel of God.”

That’s the same prayer Kipp Tollefsrud told a judge he recited each day until he turned 18. A fight with his father forced him from home with little money and three changes of clothes.

He said he only once reached out again on Mother’s Day.

“I called her a year afterwards,” he said. “The first words out of her mouth were, ‘You know you’re going to hell.'”

The decision about whether Maranatha keeps the two properties is now in the hands of Judge Jeffrey Thompson. He said he hopes to make a decision by Thanksgiving.

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