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Defiant O.C. sect leader gets 10-day jail sentence

January 13, 2007|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

The 85-year-old leader of a Christian sect in Costa Mesa was sentenced Friday to 10 days in jail for interfering with county health inspectors and operating a restaurant without a permit.

About two dozen members of the Piecemakers, a small Christian commune formed in the 1970s, filled the gallery as Orange County Superior Court Judge Kelly W. MacEachern sentenced Marie Kolasinski. In addition to the jail time, she was given three years' probation and ordered to attend an anger-management program.

Piecemakers Judy Haeger, 59, and Doug Follette, 52, were sentenced to three years' probation and 30 days of community service. Kolasinski, Haeger and Follette must also pay a total of $9,074 in restitution to Orange County's health department, must obtain permits in order to run their restaurant and must allow unannounced health department inspections.

"No man is above the law, and no man is below it," the judge said, quoting Theodore Roosevelt.

When the judge asked the three if they understood their sentences, Kolasinski, wearing a black beret, said she didn't know why she was being punished.

"I don't understand the laws," she said. "I feel I serve my country better by not sitting in jail."

MacEachern said Kolasinski got jail time because she was the "instigator" and had a "long history of disobedience."

Some Piecemakers burst into tears as deputies took Kolasinski into custody. Members said they planned to appeal the sentence.

The Piecemakers, made up mostly of 26 elderly women who live communally, run a homey store on Adams Avenue that features handmade quilts, craft supplies and a small tearoom that serves sandwiches, soups and sweets.

Since 1991, the group has barred health inspectors from its facility, citing freedom of religion.

In October 2005, health department investigators obtained a warrant and entered the site with inspectors and Costa Mesa police. Piecemakers spewed profanities and tried to strike inspectors, and Kolasinski snatched a thermometer from one.

Health inspectors said some food items in the tearoom were not stored at the proper temperature and that some foods were not packaged, a violation of its permit. Piecemakers has refused inspections at least eight times, county officials said.

"The codes and regulations that are being enforced upon the small business people do not ensure the health or security of the people," Haeger said, according to the probation report. "God has given us brains and common sense, and we can be self-governed."

Outside the courtroom, Piecemakers said they were angry with the sentences.

"These laws are stupid laws," said Diane Sieker. "The government bullies us, terrorizes us. They come in with their guns and attitude and give us people who are trying to make a living a hard time."

Kolasinski, Haeger and Follette could have faced up to two years in prison.

According to probation reports, the three refused to acknowledge wrongdoing and felt they were victims of government harassment, unjust laws and discrimination.

Kolasinski said her 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches were violated by "vultures" (healthcare workers) and "sneaks" (undercover investigators) who "undermine the American way of life," according to the probation report.

mai.tran@latimes.com

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