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Defiant O.C. sect leader says county is `wrestling with God'

November 21, 2006|Kelly-Anne Suarez | Times Staff Writer

Marie Kolasinski, 85, marched into Orange County Superior Court in Newport Beach on Monday looking like the revolutionary her spiritual followers believe her to be: The leader of the Piecemakers religious sect sported a camouflage-print skirt and matching beret paired with a stoic face.

"It's war," she whispered moments before the trial began.

She and two others are charged with a series of misdemeanors, including operating a restaurant without a permit and obstruction of justice.

The charges are the result of a heated confrontation last year between the Piecemakers and Costa Mesa police officers and county health inspectors.

Kolasinski, Doug Follette and Judy Haeger could face fines and up to one year in jail if convicted.

The Piecemakers, a community of 26, live together in Costa Mesa.

The group, made up of mostly elderly women, runs a homey store on Adams Avenue that features handmade quilts, craft supplies and a small tearoom that serves sandwiches, soups and sweets.

For some years, the group has barred county health inspectors from its facility, citing freedom of religion as justification.

After a final failed attempt to inspect the store in October 2005, county investigator Gregory Horton obtained a warrant and entered the store with inspectors and Costa Mesa police, he testified Monday.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Steiner played several videotapes of the incident, which showed defiant Piecemakers spewing profanities and Kolasinski demanding, "Give me liberty or give me death."

When she tried to snatch a thermometer from an inspector's hands, officers arrested her.

The footage caused several jurors to laugh, but Kolasinski appeared shaken, wiping away tears as she watched the video that showed her being dragged to a police car in handcuffs as her friends screamed vulgarities and pulled at officers.

County health inspector Dino Jerro testified that some food items he tested in the tearoom were not at the proper temperature, constituting a "major" health violation.

He also said the facility sold food that wasn't prepackaged, a violation of its permit.

As for her foul language on the videotape, Kolasinski said that although she hated using those words, she felt that they were "the only thing they can hear."

After the day's proceedings, Kolasinski seethed.

But "it's OK," she said.

"We're going to win anyway. We have to for America's sake. They're not wrestling with Piecemakers; they're wrestling with God."

The country store remains open for business.

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