Judge: Alamo 'true' owner of properties

Officials ordered to sell properties to satisfy final judgment

Texarkana Gazette/November 3, 2013

By Lynn LaRowe

Convicted sex offender and evangelist Tony Alamo is the true owner of properties associated with his group, a federal judge ruled Thursday in a civil lawsuit involving two former members of Alamo Ministries.

“The U.S. Marshal is directed to sell the properties at issue … to satisfy the final judgment in this matter,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant’s Oct. 31 opinion states. “The court finds the ownership claims made to the properties (by Alamo followers) are not valid, and further finds Bernie Lazar Hoffman, aka, Tony Alamo, is the true owner of the properties.”

A jury found Alamo guilty in June 2011 of conspiracy, battery and outrage in a federal lawsuit filed by Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna, who were savagely beaten, starved, forced to labor unpaid and denied education as children raised in Alamo Ministries. Alamo owes each man $15 million plus interest.

Alamo, 79, is serving a 175-year federal prison term for bringing five women he wed as children across state lines for sex. Alamo married some of the girls when they were as young as 8.

Earlier this year, Bryant gave a green light to sell six properties in Fort Smith, Ark., to partially satisfy the $30 million owed Ondrisek and Calagna. The properties, which are part of the ministry’s compound, are a church, gym, warehouse, restaurant, restaurant parking lot and a house.

Eighty Alamo loyalists filed claims of ownership interest on the real estate. The members argued the land belongs to Alamo Ministries or to all members collectively, not to Alamo.

Ondrisek’s and Calagna’s lawyers, David Carter of Texarkana and Neil Smith of Irving, Texas, argued the followers’ claims are baseless and that Alamo is the true owner and beneficiary of the properties. Bryant agreed.

After a hearing on the 80 members’ claims Oct. 9, Bryant dismissed all but five of the loyalists from the property issue.

In his Oct. 31 opinion, Bryant addressed the five remaining claims. The order describes the members each as “generally not credible.”

At the Oct. 9 hearing, Carter and Smith gave the court copies of deposition testimony from Alamo, current and former Alamo Ministries members and federal inmate Melvin Fagan Jr., who acted as Alamo’s assistant while in a Tuscon, Ariz., federal prison. The lawyers suing Alamo also provided a bevy of emails to and from Alamo to argue that Alamo maintains a strong hold on members of Alamo Ministries and continues to manage the day-to-day operations of the ministry and its businesses.

“I’m the pastor and-yeah, don’t tangle with me,” states an email penned by Alamo. “GOD tells everyone to report things that happen to me.”

The emails contain instructions from Alamo regarding issues from property sales and building maintenance to which members can have cell phones and to who will and will not marry whom inside the group.

“On Aug. 28, 2012, Tony Alamo directed Sharon Alamo (an Alamo wife) to tell Gregg Seago to marry Jennifer Kolbek in the church to avoid any scandal,” Bryant’s opinion states. “On Aug. 28, 2012, Tony Alamo directed Sharon Alamo to tell Jennifer Kolbek to marry Gregg Seago … and directing Jennifer to confess to the church that, ‘John (Kolbek) stole four to five hundred thousand dollars from the people in the church and that is why GOD caused him to drop dead.”

John Kolbek died of a heart attack while on the lam after Alamo’s 2008 arrest. Kolbek was wanted by Fort Smith authorities in the beatings of Ondrisek and Calagna and by federal officials for evading prosecution. Kolbek allegedly acted as Alamo’s enforcer, beating children and adults publicly with a 6-foot wooden paddle handcrafted by another Alamo Ministries member.

“On Aug. 28, 2012, Tony Alamo directed Sharon Alamo to tell Lisa Thorne he said Abigail should not marry Josiah Kolbek because he is a, ‘liar and his brother is a fornicator,’” the opinion states. “On Aug. 31, 2012, Sharon Alamo forwarded a report from Miriam Krantz, who spoke with DHS (Department of Human Services child welfare) worker who ‘stole all our children.’ Tony Alamo responded that, ‘It really helps when the brothers and sisters report these things to me,’ and directed the people in the ministry, ‘to read the tract “Fasting” and to do what it says.’”

Bryant’s order includes a list of 27 additional examples of Alamo’s management of his ministry from federal prison. The examples include directing a road block be put up at the entrance of the church in Fouke, Ark., just outside Texarkana; directing responses to members’ deposition questions; withholding a member’s finances and phone; declaring Alamo pays “for everyone’s medical prescriptions in the church”; granting approval to a member to see her children; and kicking members out of the group with whom Alamo is unhappy.

“There are at least 303 emails from Tony Alamo dated during less than a seven-month period from Aug. 27, 2012, to March 11, 2013, which demonstrate his control over the ministry,” Bryant’s opinion states. “This number amounts to over one email per day or over 43 emails per month.”

In his opinion, Bryant reviews Alamo’s history of attempting to avoid those who sought to hold him accountable for his misdeeds. Alamo funds and properties were seized as recompense for a civil judgment owed to a boy beaten in the 1990s at ministry land in California and for unpaid federal taxes. Since then, Alamo devised a system to evade responsibility, the opinion states.

Titles of properties are never placed in Alamo’s name but in the names of trusted followers. However, a titleholder is required to sign an undated quitclaim deed that is stored in the ministry office. If Alamo orders, the quitclaim deed is dated and filed, transferring ownership to another member in good favor with the pastor, usually for a $1 fee.

“Significantly, Tony Alamo has discussed this property scheme with his attorney and other members of the ministry,” the opinion states. “Tony Alamo frequently uses this excuse—that title is not in his name—to avoid any responsibility for these properties.”

Bryant’s order also addresses a sixth claim to an interest in the proceeds of the sale of the six Fort Smith properties. Alamo’s deceased wife and former co-pastor, Susan Alamo, died in the 1980s. After her death, Alamo ordered members to pray around her body 24 hours a day for a number of days, promising their pleas to God would bring about Susan’s resurrection. Susan Alamo was eventually buried in a heart-shaped mausoleum on ministry property in Alma, Ark., which was seized in the 1990s. Susan Alamo’s body was disinterred by Alamo Ministries before officials took possession of the land and the location of the corpse remained a mystery for years.

Christhiaon Coie, Susan Alamo’s daughter, filed suit Sept. 14, 1995, in Crawford County, Ark., seeking information concerning her mother’s remains and a monetary judgment against Alamo. Alamo was found guilty of outrage in the case and ordered to pay Coie a $100,000 judgment. The judgment remains in force.

Susan Alamo’s body reappeared in the 1990s when authorities threatened to delay Alamo’s release from federal prison for a brief stint for tax evasion. DNA testing was necessary to confirm the remains were those of Susan Alamo.

Bryant’s opinion recognizes Coie’s uncollected judgment but notes that little action has been taken by her to collect it, especially in relation to the six Fort Smith properties he has ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to sell at auction in the Ondrisek-Calagna case.

“As to Christhiaon Coie’s claim, the court finds plaintiffs (Ondrisek and Calagna) were the first to diligently enforce this judgment against Tony Alamo,” Bryant wrote.

Bryant’s opinion states Ondrisek and Calagna are entitled to be the first to collect from the sale of the six pieces of real estate.

After any bank loans or mortgages concerning the six properties are satisfied, the proceeds from selling the Alamo Ministries properties in Fort Smith will go directly to Ondrisek and Calagna, Bryant ruled.

The proceeds from such a sale are not likely to total the $30 million plus Alamo owes the two men.

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision, which reaffirms Judge Bryant’s earlier finding these properties are actually owned and controlled by Tony Alamo. But our work is far from over. We will seek court ordered sales of all Alamo properties, regardless of where they may be located or how long it may take,” Smith and Carter said.

With that in mind, Carter and Smith previously filed a request for a writ from Bryant allowing the sale of 12 more properties, including many associated with Alamo’s Fouke, Ark., compound, a house in Texarkana, Ark., where Alamo lived with his wives and other Fort Smith properties. Last week, Bryant inked an order approving the sale, including the Fouke church building, a gym next to the Fouke church, a truck shop and office in Fort Smith.

Among the Fouke properties up for sale is The House of Scorn, a building with steel bars on the windows adjacent to the Fouke church. Witnesses at Alamo’s criminal trial testified that young girls and women whose behavior angered Alamo were sent to the house for a cloistered period of punishment, which often included fasts and beatings.

Any claims to the 12 properties listed in Bryant’s recent writ must be filed by Dec. 6. Considering Bryant’s ruling last week concerning the six Fort Smith properties, it may be unlikely he will entertain the same claims from Alamo loyalists again, Carter said.

The second writ ordering the sale of 12 parcels in Texarkana, Fouke and Fort Smith notes that Alamo’s debt to Ondrisek and Calagna is growing.

“Since entry of judgment, costs and interest have accrued according to law,” the writ states. “Computation of the debt as of Oct. 28, 2013, is the judgment amount of $30 million, plus accrued interest at a rate of 1.9 percent in the sum of $132,738.07, for a total of $30,132,738.07. Interest will continue to accrue daily in the sum of $156.16.”

But Alamo’s debt does not end there.

The U.S. government has filed notice in the criminal case involving five former Alamo brides of its intent to seize properties to satisfy $500,000 in restitution owed each of the victims. Additionally, Carter and Smith filed a second civil suit, filed on behalf of the five victims listed in the criminal case, an alleged wife who left Alamo after he was convicted and a woman who testified at his criminal trial that she was being groomed to be a wife when she made a daring escape as a teen from the Fouke compound. The case involving the women is scheduled for trial in January in federal court in Texarkana.

Carter and Smith said they expect to file a request in the civil cases for a third writ seeking the sale of more Alamo Ministries holdings in the coming weeks. Bryant recently granted a request from Carter and Smith for Alamo to reveal the source of cash he has used to pay legal fees exceeding $1.6 million.

Alamo Ministries operates a compound in Saugus, Calif., outside of Los Angeles, and a church in New York, and owns warehouses, commercial trucks and a fleet of cars and SUVs thought to be stored in various sites in the country.

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