An ownership stake in property belonging to the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, including the ministry’s church complex in Fouke and an apartment complex in Fort Smith, will likely be up for sale in October to satisfy a $3 million judgment in a lawsuit by two former ministry members, an attorney for the former members said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin cleared the way for the properties to be auctioned when he voided deeds that had transferred partial ownership of the properties from John Kolbeck, described by authorities as the ministry’s “enforcer,” to other church members.
Griffin’s order directs the Miller County Circuit Clerk to auction Kolbeck’s 20 percent stake in the properties if the $3 million judgment is not paid within 10 days. The auction could then be held after it is advertised for 30 days in an area newspaper.
W. David Carter of Texarkana, Texas, an attorney for the two former members, said he doubted the auction would raise enough money to satisfy the judgment.
“It will depend on who’s bidding and how much they think a one-fifth interest in those properties is worth,” Carter said.
Assessor’s records listed the property as having an appraised value totaling just less than $3.5 million.
The former members, Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna, won the judgment against Kolbeck in October 2009 after Kolbeck failed to respond to a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Texarkana. The former members said in the suit that Kolbeck beat them with an open hand and an inch-and-a-half-thick board at the direction of the ministry’s leader, Tony Alamo.
When the lawsuit was filed, Kolbeck was wanted on a charge of second-degree battery in a beating that Calagna said he received at a ministry warehouse in Fort Smith in 2008 at age 17.
Kolbeck died of heart failure at a house near Louisa, Ky., in January at age 51.
Alamo, 76, 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.
In keeping with the ministry’s practice of placing ownership of property in the names of multiple church members, Kolbeck at one time was listed as one of five owners of the properties named in Griffin’s order.
After the lawsuit was filed by Calagna and Ondrisek in 2008, however, Kolbeck transferred his share of ownership in the properties to other church members.
Calagna and Ondrisek contended in a lawsuit in Miller County Circuit Court that the property transfers were fraudulent attempts to protect the properties from being auctioned to satisfy the federal court judgment.
After Kolbeck died, attorney Charles Walker of Hope was appointed as a “special administrator” to receive a notice of the Miller County lawsuit on behalf of Kolbeck’s estate.
Walker said he mailed a copy of the lawsuit to the last known address of Kolbeck’s widow, Jennifer Kolbeck, but never heard from her.
No member of the ministry responded to the lawsuit, so Griffin entered a default judgment on behalf of Calagna and Ondrisek on Tuesday.
The church complex on U.S. 71 in Fouke, appraised at just less than $1.2 million, includes a cafeteria, school, gymnasium and at least four houses, according to property records.
The property to be auctioned also includes an apartment complex in Fort Smith appraised at more than $1.3 million, as well as a house, a commercial building and a vacant lot in Fort Smith.
Attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, who represents Alamo and several ministry members in other lawsuits, called Griffin’s order a “Pyrrhic victory” for Calagna and Ondrisek because he doesn’t think the auction will bring in much money.
“A one-fifth interest in a property owned by four other people is meaningless until the property is otherwise sold,” Hall said.
Hall predicted the only bidders would be ministry members, but Carter said it’s possible that Ondrisek and Calagna would also put in bids.
Ministry properties have been sold to satisfy debts before. In the 1990s, federal marshals auctioned the ministry’s compound in Dyer to pay $1.4 million judgment awarded in a lawsuit by six former members, including a boy who said he was paddled at the ministry’s compound in Saugus, Calif. Some of the money generated also went to pay Alamo’s tax debts.
In June, Calagna and Ondrisek won a $66 million verdict in federal court against Alamo in connection with the beatings that they said he ordered. Hall has asked a judge to reduce the verdict, saying it is “unreasonable on its face.”
Alamo was also ordered to pay a total of $2.5 million in restitution to the five women whom he was convicted of taking across state lines for sex when they were girls.
Western District of Arkansas U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge said Wednesday that prosecutors are attempting to identify assets that could be seized to pay the restitution.
“We continue to work on their behalf every day on that,” Eldridge said.