Photo by Jimmy Tebeau
In its Schwagstock days, Camp Zoe hosted partiers and those just seeking a return to nature.
Cabins that rent for $339/night. A lodge with expansive suites, complete with in-room Keurigs and flat-screen TVs. A restaurant featuring "local wine and artisan-crafted beer." A children's adventure playground, float trip rentals and trails for mountain biking.
This weekend, Missouri will unveil Echo Bluff State Park
, a new 430-acre state park that boasts $52 million in upgrades and amenities. But old hippies, young partiers and jam band fans of all ages may find the site looks familiar — as Camp Zoe, it was their playground for a half-dozen years.
The park was owned by musician Jimmy Tebeau, who bought it in 2004 and ran a series of wildly popular music festivals there called Schwagstock until the feds put an abrupt end to the fun. Charging that the events on-site amounted to an open-air drug market, they seized the land and charged Tebeau in federal court with "maintaining a drug-involved premises."
(Originally sentenced to 30 months, he was released early, in March 2014
, for good behavior.)
The feds later sold the land at auction to the state of Missouri for $640,000, as the RFT reported at the time
. The state added another 100 acres of land and invested heavily in amenities, also attracting $10.5 million in federal grants to pay for bridges and roadways, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In the Post-Dispatch story, which was published this afternoon
, Governor Jay Nixon is calling the new park a "key" part of his legacy: "In essence, we turned it from a drug haven to a jewel of our state park system. It's going to pay off huge dividends for a lot of years to come.”
But it's safe to say that for many state residents, the park's legacy is quite a bit more complicated. The Camp Zoe seizure left a bad taste in many people's mouths — you don't have to be a fan of bands like The Schwag to view the government's case against Tebeau with some trepidation.
The RFT detailed the concerns of Tebeau's attorney, Dan Viets, back in 2011
"It's a terrible thing to think that the government could just march in and take someone's money, take someone's property ... They can't blame the property owner just because some people who are present break the law any more than they can blame the city because crimes take place in city parks. That obviously would be fundamentally unfair."
The government isn't just trying to seize Camp Zoe. The feds also froze Tebeau's assets, including more than $188,000 in a personal bank account.
"They took all of his money," Viets says. "Whether they get to keep it is another matter, but they seized it. It is incredible what the federal government can do to people or a business based merely on allegations with no evidence whatsoever. When they take all your money, it's pretty hard to hire a lawyer. They know that, and they're depriving a citizen or a business owner of his right to counsel."
To the end, Tebeau maintained his innocence — he reluctantly took a plea bargain only because he was facing nine years in prison.
As the RFT's Keegan Hamilton reported at the time
The government possessed overwhelming evidence that he at least tacitly allowed certain drugs to be bought and sold at Schwagstock (marijuana, hallucinogens and ecstasy were allegedly OK, while crack, meth, heroin and others were off-limits) and profited handsomely from the popularity of his festival as a result. The plea agreement explicitly states that the government could not prove Tebeau himself ever bought or sold drugs.
Prosecutors say the circumstances of the case are unique, but civil-liberties advocates warn that targeting a musician and venue owner sets an ominous precedent for festivals and concert sites nationwide. Tebeau is believed to be the first artist or festival organizer ever imprisoned for widespread drug use at a music festival.
"Club owners should be fearful," says Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group working to reform American drug laws. "There is precedent of government overreach with this statute, implicating core First [and Fifth] Amendment concerns."
But hey, at least now Missouri has fancy four-bedroom cabins and another spot for mountain biking and float-tripping? It's a centerpiece to tourism in the region, the government told the P-D
In short, they paved paradise and forced the owner into federal prison — and we paid for the parking lot.
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