A Miller County, Arkansas, judge awarded more than half a billion dollars in damages to seven female former members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries this week.
Six of the women were taken by Alamo as “spiritual wives” when they were children. All seven of the women were physically and sexually abused by Alamo. Alamo is serving a 175-year federal prison sentence for bringing five of the women across state lines for sex as children.
Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson entered a default judgment Monday against Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church, an arm of Alamo Ministries. Twenty First failed to respond to a civil lawsuit filed by the women in Miller County state court. Twenty First’s silence allowed Texarkana lawyer David Carter and Irving, Texas, lawyer Neil Smith to seek the default judgment and damages award. The personal-injury judgment is the largest in the history of Miller County and the state of Arkansas, Carter said.
As exhibits at a hearing on the default judgment Monday in a third-floor courtroom of Miller County Courthouse in downtown Texarkana, Carter introduced psychological reports detailing the abuse and its effect on the seven female plaintiffs. Carter also introduced correspondence discovered during a search of ministry properties in Fouke, Ark., near Texarkana, which alleges that water rights on property Alamo holds in California are worth several billion dollars. The property is in Santa Clarita, Calif., not far from Los Angeles.
“We’re suggesting damages equal to a third of the value of those properties in California,” Carter said.
A Sept. 24, 2007, email from Alamo to a ministry member speaks of the valuable water.
“This is the water report that Ray Wilson was telling you about. I’ve put a sticker on the page that tells that it is an inexhaustible source of water, said to be worth a billion or more dollars,” Alamo’s email states.
A March 5, 2008, email from an Alamo loyalist to the ministry office states the water could be sold commercially to the city or county of Los Angeles for big profits. Carter said the California properties should be used to help Alamo’s victims.
“We will register the judgment in California and begin proceedings to have properties in that state sold to satisfy the judgment,” Carter said. “This judgment sends a powerful message to those who facilitate or enable the sexual and physical abuse of children: You will be held accountable in a court of law.”
Johnson said his judgment reflects the court’s desire to compensate Alamo’s victims.
“The depraved, reprehensible acts of Tony Alamo and others boggle the mind,” Johnson said. “It is shocking that people could treat fellow human beings in this manner.”
Johnson awarded millions in actual and punitive damages to each of the seven women named as plaintiffs in the civil suit.
Desiree Kolbek, Amy Eddy, Jeanette Orlando and Summer Hagan—four of the five women listed as victims in Alamo’s criminal case in federal court—each received $29 million in actual damages and $58 million in punitive damages. Nicole Farr, who escaped from Alamo’s house at 15 while being groomed to be a wife, received $10 million in actual damages and $20 million in punitive damages. Jamie Rodriguez, who was an Alamo wife from age 13 to 16 and a listed victim in his criminal case, received $22 million in actual damages and $44 million in punitive damages. Pebbles Rodriguez, who left Alamo after his criminal conviction, received $27 million in actual damages and $54 million in punitive damages. Rodriguez was taken as a wife by Alamo as a teen. The judgment for all the women totals $525 million.
At Monday’s hearing, Carter elicited testimony from Kolbek about her days as an Alamo wife.
“When I was 8, he brought me into his room and laid me on his bed. He put his hands up my shirt and down my pants. … A few days later, he asked me to be his wife,” she said.
Kolbek said she was forcibly raped by Alamo as a pre-pubescent girl.
“I was terrified. I thought God would kill me (if I left him),” Kolbek said.
Kolbek described the group’s “reporting” system, which encourages members to tattle on one another to Alamo. Kolbek said Alamo would hold “trial” and determine if a member deserved to be punished or kicked out of the ministry.
Children in the ministry were minimally educated on site by other members prior to a September 2008 raid on Alamo properties in Fouke, according to testimony at Alamo’s July 2009 criminal trial. If needed to work, children did not attend school, Kolbek said. Kolbek said members acting as watchmen and an armed security company made certain outsiders did not step on ministry property and that members didn’t leave the property without Alamo’s blessing.
Kolbek said she was repeatedly raped and beaten by Alamo from age 9 until she escaped the ministry at age 15.
“He accused me of flirting with a waiter because I laughed at his joke. I was held down by four people on a bed and beaten with a board 40 times,” Kolbek said.
Kolbek said Alamo’s violence left her at various times with a broken nose, swollen black and blue marks on her face and body and other physical injuries. Kolbek said she was forced to fast for days by Alamo and spent months locked away in a property near Alamo’s Fouke, Ark., house known among the members as the House of Scorn. The house was used by Alamo as a dormitory for women with whom he was displeased, Kolbek said. Kolbek said the house had little furniture and even less to occupy or distract the women being punished there.
“Tony had older wives beat younger wives. They had to beat with all their force or Tony would beat them,” Kolbek said. “He told us we were stupid, ugly, and that we didn’t mean anything. He would cuss us while hitting us at the same time.”
Carter asked Kolbek if life with Alamo made her believe she was helpless without him.
“You do realize all of this was designed to make you feel worthless,” Carter said.
Kolbek said her childhood in Alamo’s world made her wish for death.
“I wished for it over the abuse. I was taught that if I left Tony, I would be struck by God and spend eternity in hell,” Kolbek said.
Kolbek told the court members are taught to fear outsiders, the government and law enforcement and that life is designed to isolate the group from contemporary news, media and entertainment.
Carter submitted under seal with the court expert witness reports about the women, a summary of abuse based on testimony from all seven women taken at depositions and at trial and a publicly available copy of a DVD of an Oprah Winfrey Show episode featuring several of the women.
Carter told Johnson that Orlando suffered rapes, beatings, verbal abuse, fasting and confinement as an Alamo wife from age 15 to 28. Orlando was abused at Alamo’s houses in Fouke and Fort Smith, Ark., and on trips. While serving time for tax evasion in the 1990s at a federal lockup in Texarkana, Alamo fondled Orlando, Farr, Eddy and others. Members encircled Alamo in the prison visiting room, shielding his lascivious conduct from guards and other prisoners, Kolbek said.
Eddy was an Alamo wife from age 14 to 25. Hagan was a wife from age 9 to 16. All of the women were physically, sexually and spiritually abused, Carter said.
“No amount of money is going to wash away the pain these ladies have endured,” Carter said.
Carter provided Johnson with an opinion from Morris Arnold, who once served as a district judge in the Western District of Arkansas federal court. The opinion concerned a civil suit filed in the late 1980s on behalf of Justin Miller and his family. Miller suffered a public beating directed by Alamo and other abuses.
“No feeling person could fail to be moved by the testimony in this case or to be revolted by the cold-blooded and calculated manner in which the punishment of Justin Miller was carried out,” Morris’ opinion states.
Morris awarded Miller and his family more than $1 million for their suffering.
Carter told Johnson that Angela Morales, a current Alamo wife, allegedly helped carry out beatings of the plaintiffs and was an adult living in Alamo’s house when he was sexually abusing children.
“She is listed as the president of Twenty First. She was in the middle of all of this and did nothing to stop it,” Carter said. “They’ve learned nothing from the past, your honor.”
As the hearing drew to a close Monday, Johnson addressed Kolbek.
“Your courage in coming forward has played a big part in saving others from abuse. It was very brave of you,” Johnson said. “I hope you can take some solace in that.”
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