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Slave case settlement awards $10,000 to men

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Slave case settlement awards $10,000 to men


A final financial settlement of $10,000 has been reached in a legal contest that started seven years ago when a Chelsea area couple was accused of forcing two retarded men to work as slaves on a dairy farm.

Robert Fulmer and Louis Molitoris, named as the two victims in the case, appeared briefly in Washtenaw County Circuit Court Monday to accept $5,000 each as a settlement of damage suits that were filed on their behalf in 1984 against Ike and Margarethe Kozminski. The Kozminskis had been ordered by a federal judge to pay $34,000 in restitution to the men.

The case began in 1983, when FBI agents arrested the Kozminskis and their son John and accused them of holding Fulmer and Molitoris on their farm as slaves for more than a decade. The farm is in Lima and Sharon townships.

In a 1984 trial before U.S. District Judge George La Plata, the Kozminskis were found guilty of inflicting "psychological coercion" to hold Fulmer and Molitoris as slave workers. The farm couple successfully asked the federal appeals court to reverse their convictions. The appeals judges ruled that the theory of psychological coercion without physical force is not widely enough accepted among psychologists to be offered as evidence.

That ruling was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1988 ruling that was watched closely by religious cults and by critics who contend that some cults use psychological coercion to gain and hold members.

In 1988, the Kozminskis pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of keeping inadequate employment records. La Plata, whose court is in Ann Arbor, last year ordered the Kozminskis to pay fines of $3,000 each in addition to the $34,000 in compensation for the years of labor by Fulmer and Molitoris. Their son was placed on court-supervised probation for six months.

Legal activity related to civil cases filed for Fulmer and Molitoris was suspended while the criminal charges against the Kozminskis were resolved. Settlement also also was delayed by the illness of Stanley Bartnicki, the original attorney for Fulmer and Molitoris.

The original suit Bartnicki filed sought $13.9 million in compensation for the two men.

Fulmer, now in his mid-70s and carrying a device to aid his breathing, started working on the Kozminski dairy farm after Margarethe Kozminski picked him up as he was walking on a road in 1967. Molitoris, now 67, was living as a street person in Ann Arbor in 1972 when Ike Kozminski took him to the dairy farm.

Both men, when questioned Monday in court by their attorney, John t. Maclean, said they fully understand that if a trial had been held on their civil cases, they might have received more than $5,000, or less, or nothing.

Maclean said the $5,000 payments will be placed in trust funds that the National Bank of Detroit supervises for Molitoris and Fulmer. The two men are understood to be living in adult foster homes not far from where they worked for the Kozminskis, who reportedly now live primarily in Florida.