Missouri Ozarks campground owner sued in drug case

Friday, July 15, 2011 | 8:08 p.m. CDT; updated 5:37 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

COLUMBIA — Jimmy Tebeau figured a shuttered youth camp deep in the Missouri Ozarks would be the perfect venue for his Grateful Dead tribute band — and to host other touring musicians and thousands of free-spirited fans.

Since 2004, his 350-acre campground — named Camp Zoe — has featured performances from his own band, the Schwag, as well as top acts such as The Roots and Los Lobos.

But the music recently stopped at Camp Zoe, and now the dreadlocked dad — once considered a savvy impresario among concert promoters and festival organizers in the lucrative improvisational music world— is accused of purveying an illicit drug scene.

Camp Zoe, located about 150 miles southwest of St. Louis, staged its last concert on Halloween of last year. The federal government sued Tebeau in November 2010, hoping to seize the campground and nearly $200,000 in profits from his Schwagstock concert series, when his own band performs.

A four-year investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service found "open sales" of cocaine, marijuana, LSD, Ecstasy, hallucinogenic mushrooms, opium and marijuana-laced food at Camp Zoe in a bazaar-like atmosphere where drug vendors shouted sales pitches to passersby along campground roads and walking trails, according to court documents. Undercover agents made more than 100 drug purchases.

Tebeau declined to discuss the case on the advice of his lawyers. But his lawyer, Emmett McAuliffe, calls the federal action an overzealous reach that could establish a troubling legal precedent — not just for music festival promoters but for other business owners in the sports and entertainment industries. The civil action is on hold pending the criminal case.

"It's unprecedented. It's inequitable. They're putting a burden on him that no one can fulfill," said McAuliffe. "Is there any concert promoter in America that would be completely free of the knowledge that there might be drugs being used at his event? Any football team owner?"

The June 17 complaint accuses Tebeau and camp workers of being in the "immediate area" and taking "no action to break up or prevent these known gatherings." Civil asset forfeiture is being sought under a federal law that forbids business owners from "profit(ing) from or make available for use" drug-related activities.

The Ozarks land is valued at $600,000. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan declined comment.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Marty Elmore, a spokesman for the district that includes Tebeau's Shannon County property, said his agency routinely saw a surge of illegal activity on Schwagstock weekends since Tebeau took over the property in 2004. Arrest records from a series of safety checkpoints at a highway intersection several miles north of the campground show nearly 1,000 felony and misdemeanor drug arrests as well as underage drinking citations, seat belt violations and other offenses.

"Certainly, when Camp Zoe was in full swing, we did experience a large number of drug arrests and a lot of drug activity," Elmore said.

But a Nov. 1 raid of the campground by an estimated 80 federal agents and local law enforcement — one day after the "Spookstock" Halloween festival — yielded no drugs, McAuliffe said. "Not a single (marijuana) roach."

Tebeau hired private security guards to work festivals, but his efforts to recruit off-duty sheriff's deputies and state troopers were unsuccessful, according to McAuliffe.

"If there were a problem from lack of safety at the camp, there were many other ways the government could have gone about making the camp safe," he said. "They could have made whatever drug busts they wanted to make."

News of the Camp Zoe bust spread quickly in the jam band scene, a genre that has driven the nationwide revival of summer music festivals such as Tennessee's Bonnaroo and the southern California desert's Coachella.

Few festival producers and concert owners were willing to speak publicly about the incident. But, Rebecca Sparks, promoter of the annual High Sierra Music Festival in northern California, said the industry is keenly watching the Missouri case.

"It's definitely chilling," she said. "I'm anxious to see how it all shakes out."

At the same time, Sparks noted that "each festival is unique and has its own relationship with local authorities." In the case of High Sierra, now in its 21st year, that's meant a working relationship with a local sheriff's department after a more tumultuous stretch several years ago when Sparks said concert-goers were targeted for arrest.

"It did give us pause, but we didn't go running for cover," she said of the Missouri case.

Tebeau, who lived on the seized farm with his wife and two young children, returned to St. Louis but lives mostly on the road, performing five to six nights a week on a tour with Schwag and in another group headed by Melvin Seals, a one-time Jerry Garcia collaborator.

He admits that in hindsight, a band name synonymous with low-grade marijuana was not the wisest choice.

"If I was going to do it over again, I'd probably pick a different band name."

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Jeremy Calton July 16, 2011 | 11:35 a.m.

There's really too much to get into here. I guess the big things are:

1) This article doesn't mention all the property that has already been seized. They took all the cash and assets of the event. This meant that all the people working the event all weekend such as gate, security, cleaning personnel--they all had their wages stolen by the government. Yet, they aren't being "sued."

The owner can't use the land to generate revenue for his defense. It's really not accurate to say that he is being sued--his assets are being sued. There's a much lower burden of proof (the lowest, in fact) for suing property than charging someone with a crime, THEN taking their property.
The government (law enforcement specifically) wants that money--they don't even care about the crime. Your property (especially cash--they love cash) is de facto guilty until proven innocent.
If the police seize $3,000 of your money, are you going to spend $10,000 litigating to get it back? Of course not. If police seized $600,000 worth of land, then you'd just sell it to pay for the defense, right? Wrong, you can't sell it; they've already seized it.

2) Originally the owner wasn't even charged with any crimes. They just took his money and his land. Good luck getting it back.
But because so many people complained for so long about this case, a year later the government finally trumped up some criminal charges to cover their ***.

3) Note that what they finally charged him with was "failure to act" while drug sales were allegedly taking place.
Yet the government spent FOUR YEARS making this case and ignoring drug sales. Presumably (it's a big presumption) this is a crime because it somehow endangers us in some way.
So, if the crime is being ignored by law enforcement, is it somehow less dangerous to us than if a citizen is ignoring it?
If your kid had overdosed and died there three years ago, would you feel protected and served to learn that a cop watched it all happen and did nothing?

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Calton July 16, 2011 | 11:50 a.m.

If you've never heard of any of this, here are some other stories from local news sources you can read/watch to educate yourself:
[TN highway shakedowns]
The reporter asks "Are police more concerned about making money off the drugs than stopping them?"--sounds a lot like Camp Zoe.
[Kansas SWAT literally stealing money]

Indiana practices some of the worst in the country: LEOs are supposed to give 100% of their seizures to the state schools in IN. Instead, law enforcement kept 99.5% and gave only 0.5%.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 16, 2011 | 4:09 p.m.

Gotta love those "safety inspections." I'm betting they were in place only on weekends that there were concerts...

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 17, 2011 | 3:43 p.m.

Send them to IRAQ!!!

(Report Comment)

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