Drink all day and rock all night
Law come to get you if you don't walk right
— Robert Hunter
The Ozark region of southern Missouri is not renowned as a hotbed of psychedelic rock. Heritage-wise, the rolling hills and winding rivers have proven conducive to jug bands and dexterously plucked banjos, not jam bands and fifteen-minute guitar solos. But every summer since 2004, thousands of tie-dyed hippies have descended on the Ozarks as though it were Haight-Ashbury circa 1967.
This annual Summer of Love revival in the heart of hillbilly country is largely the work of Jimmy Tebeau. An ebullient 43-year-old who sports a chest-length red beard and a thick tangle of dreadlocks, Tebeau is the bass player and frontman of a St. Louis-based Grateful Dead tribute band called the Schwag. When the Dead's legendary lead singer Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the act, which had formed three years prior, was suddenly a hot ticket. In the summer of 1997, Tebeau organized the first Schwagstock music festivals, a series of weekend events headlined by the Schwag and staged at campgrounds in the Ozarks. The shows were popular — drawing upward of 7,000 people five times per summer — and Tebeau saw an opportunity to expand.
"The [campground] rent started becoming twice the amount of total cost of a land payment for one year," the singer explains. "It only made sense to buy a campground and customize the property to cater to this regular series of events."
About 150 miles southwest of St. Louis, near the tiny town of Salem, Tebeau found exactly what he was looking for: a 352-acre tract, bucolic and picturesque, with access to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. From 1929 to 1986, it had been the site of a youth summer camp called Camp Zoe. In order to muster a down payment on the $530,000 parcel, Tebeau refinanced his home mortgage and borrowed money from family members. Relocating to his new spread along with his wife, Tiffany, and their two children, Tebeau resolved to resurrect the old campsite's name, wooing concertgoers with a mix of music and the great outdoors.
"It's just kind of a fun concept," says Andy Coco, whose band the Dogtown Allstars has played several Schwagstocks. "I really enjoyed being in the middle of nowhere and having a body of water to jump in and stuff like that."
Tebeau hosted a variety of events at Camp Zoe, including the Pagan Spirit Gathering, the Bluegrass Jam, biker rallies and Gateway Burners, a gathering inspired by Burning Man. He estimates that the camp has attracted more than 150,000 visitors since 2004.
With the crowds came the party.
James Mullins, a disc jockey at KDHX (88.1 FM) who volunteered to work the public-address system and spin records between sets at several Camp Zoe events, says the Schwagstock festivals in particular developed a reputation for debauchery.
"It's a stereotype that all people that go to this are heavy into drugs," Mullins says. "So there were folks that, word-of-mouth, were saying, 'Hey, go to Schwagstock; it's a hippie festival — anything goes.' I think there were probably some folks that were going for that. Not that that's why Schwagstock happened, but I'm sure some folks were thinking that."
Local entertainment lawyer Emmett McAuliffe, Tebeau's attorney and a personal friend, says goings-on at the campground were no different from what transpires at any other music festival or large gathering.
"You have problems in society at-large — drug use, violence, drunken driving, et cetera," says McAuliffe. "When you get people assembled for a recreational event, those problems are not going to disappear. As a matter of fact, you expect them to get a little worse — because it's the weekend, after all."
McAuliffe adds that Tebeau went to great lengths to keep things under control, including hiring security guards and installing lighting in high-traffic areas around the campground.
"Camp Zoe did everything that all other festivals and amphitheaters do for security, and perhaps more," the attorney says. "[Jimmy] has got a four-year-old and a two-year-old. The last thing he would want is a bunch of drug-crazed weirdos camping out on his front doorstep."
Tebeau's efforts notwithstanding, several festival attendees and performers say that in recent years the scene at the campground had gotten out of hand. One musician, who asked that his name be withheld because he does not want to jeopardize his relationships with members of the jam-band community, tells of car break-ins and thefts from campers' tents.
"There was kind of a weirdness about it, that it was getting a little dirty," says the musician. "The feeling among some of my friends was that Schwagstock was becoming slightly dangerous. Some of the kids were more runaways than they were credit-card hippies."
Concertgoers and musicians weren't the only ones concerned about the happenings at Camp Zoe.
The bacchanals eventually attracted the attention of law-enforcement officials.
Carrie Goebel went to sleep this past Halloween in her own version of paradise. She woke up to a nightmare.
The 46-year-old artist from Warrenton spent the last weekend in October 2010 camping out at Camp Zoe's Spookstock festival. "The weather was great; there were lots of good costumes," Goebel recalls. "Little kids were trick-or-treating from campsite to campsite. It was a good time. It was a great weekend."
But on the morning of Monday, November 1, Goebel and several hundred fellow Spookstock holdovers awoke to find a small army of law-enforcement officials invading the campground.
"I was making coffee, and I look over, and there was a pickup truck full of police officers, and in the back was men in camouflage," Goebel recounts. "They were going from tent to tent, telling people to get out. There was a hazmat team and police cars from Salem and Rolla. I wasn't there when the [police] dogs came, but they wrote down my driver's license info in a notebook and then filmed me leaving. I didn't know what to do. I felt like I was being terrorized."
Only later did Goebel learn that the raid was the culmination of a four-year-long investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Missouri State Highway Patrol into alleged drug use and sales by Camp Zoe concertgoers.
At the time of the raid, no one — including Tebeau — was charged with a crime. Yet federal prosecutors are attempting to seize the campground in civil court, using a statutory process called asset forfeiture.
According to a document filed November 8 in U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri, over the past several years at Schwagstock "undercover agents observed the open sales of cocaine, marijuana, LSD (acid), ecstasy, psilocybin mushrooms, opium and marijuana-laced food products by individuals attending the music festival and made multiple undercover purchases of illegal drugs." The federal prosecutors allege that Tebeau and other Camp Zoe staff members were "in the immediate area" when the drug deals transpired and "took no immediate action to prevent the activity."
The prosecutors state that "undercover purchases have been made as recently as September 2010" — presumably during Schwagstock 45, which took place September 17 and 18, 2010 — and that the investigation dates back to 2006 and includes evidence from "surveillance, undercover operations, source information, bank records and interviews." Camp Zoe, they allege, was "knowingly opened, rented, leased, used or maintained for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing or using controlled substances."
Dan Viets, a Columbia, Missouri-based defense attorney who is representing Tebeau and Camp Zoe in conjunction with McAuliffe, says the feds' allegations are baseless. (Tebeau declined the RFT's interview request and directed all questions about the Camp Zoe case to his attorneys.)
"It's a terrible thing to think that the government could just march in and take someone's money, take someone's property," says Viets. "We haven't seen a bit of evidence to back up their claims. 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."
As Viets notes, the legal process has only just begun. Unless and until a judge rules otherwise, Tebeau controls the land, which is also the site of his private residence.
"The property is still in Jimmy's hands," Viets says. "The property hasn't been taken; it's just the threat of forfeiture. It's like suing somebody and asking for a million dollars. You don't have to hand over that million dollars until the judge says so."
Experts in civil forfeiture cases say Tebeau and his attorneys face an uphill battle. The way federal laws are structured, the burden of proof is on Tebeau, not the government.
Unlike in criminal cases, where prosecutors have to prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," federal forfeiture proceedings require only "a preponderance of evidence" that connects personal property to a criminal enterprise. Hearsay evidence — for example, testimony from a federal agent who says a paid informant told him a car or home figured in a drug transaction — can be used to justify forfeiture, even though it would likely be inadmissible in a criminal case, says Eapen Thampy, cofounder of the nonprofit group Americans for Forfeiture Reform.
"These laws are designed to be complex and very complicated," Thampy says. "There's lots of ins and outs, but the long and short of it is they're designed to hinder people from defending themselves, and to take their property."
Asset-forfeiture laws are nothing new. They have been used since the nation's infancy to confiscate goods from smugglers who were intercepted on the high seas. Missouri's own statute dates back to 1870. Forfeiture experienced a renaissance with passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970, as federal prosecutors adopted the strategy to cripple organized-crime networks by stripping them of their ill-gotten gains. Eight years later Congress broadened the law to include drug violations.
According to the Department of Justice website, asset forfeiture "enhances public safety and security...[by] removing the proceeds of crime and other assets relied upon by criminals and their associates to perpetuate their criminal activity against our society."
Seconds Richard Callahan, U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri: "It's another tool in the toolbox. Forfeiting is a key part of the attempt to achieve justice."
For the agencies that wield it, forfeiture also represents an ever-fattening cash cow: Whatever they rightfully seize, they are permitted to keep.
Legislation passed in 1984 called the Comprehensive Crime Control Act added provisions that allow federal agencies to share federal forfeiture proceeds with local police departments.
That seemingly insignificant tweak caused the number of forfeiture cases to skyrocket nationwide.
According to a 1992 study undertaken by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C., federal forfeiture revenues increased by 1,500 percent — from $27 million to $644 million — between 1985 and 1991. By 1996 forfeiture topped $1 billion for the year, and in 2008 law-enforcement agencies nationwide reaped $3.1 billion in cash and property seizures.
In the Camp Zoe complaint filed in December, federal prosecutors estimate that the sprawling music venue and campground is worth $600,000. If a judge rules that the land was tied to illegal activity, the land will be turned over to the government, which will likely auction it off to the highest bidder.
And if everything goes according to the feds' plan, the DEA will lay claim to 20 percent of the proceeds and hand over the rest to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, an exchange the government calls "equitable sharing."
Had the Shannon County prosecutor pursued the case and achieved the same result, the windfall would boost the bottom line of an entirely different entity: the public-school system.
Missouri legislators created the so-called School Building Revolving Fund in 1998 in response to reports of widespread abuse of the forfeiture system by law-enforcement agencies.
The measure, however, has been almost completely ineffective. Local officials know that if they want revenue from a forfeiture, all they need to do is punt the case to the feds.
A variety of sources — including attorneys, activists and reports from the office of the Missouri state auditor — tell Riverfront Times that agencies routinely do precisely that: tap into the federal asset-forfeiture process in order to snare a percentage of the spoils, shutting out the school fund.
Steven Kessler, a New York attorney who has authored two books on forfeiture law, says several states have laws that require local forfeiture money to be used for education and that the "equitable sharing" system is routinely exploited by law-enforcement agencies as a way to pad their coffers. Kessler says judges rubber-stamp transfer requests from prosecutors and local police, rendering state-implemented safeguards impotent.
"This has become a fundraising tool," Kessler says. "The state law enforcement, seeing the adopted forfeiture program that the feds have, said, 'It's too difficult to get funds under our state forfeiture laws. Why don't we get the case, turn it over to the feds, and we get 80 percent of funds — and we don't do anything!'"
Callahan, the U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri, helped write Missouri's asset forfeiture-reform law in 1993 while serving as the top prosecutor in central Missouri's Cole County. He says his office has guidelines regarding which transfers they will accept from local law enforcement.
"The only time we're going to engage in forfeiture is if there was, or is going to be, a federal investigation or prosecution, or if federal officers were the source of information that led to the seizure," Callahan says. "I understand the federal system does provide incentive for money and the state law does not, but I'm naive enough to believe that we in law enforcement are there because we're trying to do good, not because we're trying to pad our budgets."
Riverfront Times obtained the Missouri state auditor's reports on asset-forfeiture activity covering the years 1999 to 2009. The reports indicate that while hundreds of thousands of dollars have changed hands between federal and local agencies, Missouri's public schools have seen only a small percentage of forfeiture proceeds.
In 2009, according to the auditor's report, Missouri law-enforcement agencies confiscated $5.6 million in assets. Of that total, 49 percent, or $2.7 million, was tied to cases that were kicked up to the federal level and retained. Assuming that every in-state agency was awarded the standard 80-percent cut (those transactions are not included in the auditor's reports), Missouri law enforcement reaped roughly $2.1 million via "equitable sharing." The schools, meanwhile, received a scant $30,673. (Of the remaining 51 percent of the total assets seized, the lion's share — $2.3 million — involved pending cases. The rest was either returned to defendants or classified as "disposition not reported.")
Those numbers don't necessarily point to abuse of the system, Callahan argues. The kinds of investigations that lead to hefty seizures are often conducted with the help of the DEA and prosecuted in federal court, where strict sentencing guidelines apply, he says. The U.S. attorney suspects the imbalance also may be due in part to a 2001 law that penalizes prosecutors who fail to report forfeiture proceeds to the state auditor.
"The bottom line is, I don't have an explanation," Callahan concedes. "But I think it could be a matter of reporting. That could be a possibility. You'd have to look at the three counties that contributed most [St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jackson County] and the seizing agency to see if there's a change in reporting. Or the numbers reflect that there's more money in drugs and more attention being paid [by law enforcement]."
A DEA spokesman declined to comment on the agency's asset-forfeiture policy. The director of the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services did not respond to a request for comment.
Another convenience favoring the federal process: The Missouri reforms require that forfeiture cases be accompanied by a felony charge against the property owner. Federal law, on the other hand, allows agencies to seize property without filing criminal charges.
"It raises a lot of interesting issues about how can a state constitution provide additional protection for citizens that the federal government has to respect," says Dave Roland, an attorney for the nonprofit legal-advocacy group Freedom Center of Missouri. "Missourians tried to protect themselves against this situation, but, because the federal government gets to play by its own rules, those protections are not coming to fruition."
Callahan says it is "very rare" for the U.S. attorney to pursue an asset-forfeiture case without filing criminal charges against the property owner. In December state prosecutors in Shannon County charged Tebeau with six felony counts of tax evasion for allegedly failing to file sales-tax returns and pay sales tax owed to the state. Federal prosecutors have yet to file any charges in the Camp Zoe case.
McAuliffe calls the tax charges a "minor issue" that has no bearing on the forfeiture. "We believe that the sales-tax issue is largely a mix-up with our accountant," the attorney says. "We think the timing of the charges was just basically a case of the state looking up and saying, 'Hey, there's this federal seizure going on, we better get while the getting is good!'"
Just after midnight on October 29, 2008, the Missouri State Highway Patrol pulled over a 1989 Ford van on Route 19 in the town of Eminence. The driver, a 23-year-old from De Soto named Joseph Wayne Bay, gave the troopers permission to search his vehicle despite the fact that he was hauling a load of drug-filled Halloween treats.
In an official statement issued a few days after Bay's arrest, the highway patrol said the search turned up "a large quantity of individually packaged marijuana-laced 'rice crispy treats,' a large quantity of marijuana-laced chocolate candy cups, several margarine tubs containing liquid infused with marijuana, several jars of liquid containing psilocybin mushrooms, and a small quantity of opium."
Bay was charged with four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. He eventually pleaded guilty to one of the possession charges and was sentenced to three years' probation, according to court records.
The date of Bay's arrest coincided with Spookstock 7 at Camp Zoe, just a few miles north of Eminence. Highway patrol records reveal that Bay was hardly the only person busted on Highway 19 during the weekend of a Camp Zoe event.
Since 2007 state troopers have conducted fourteen "safety checkpoints" at a busy intersection six miles north of Tebeau's spread — and, not so coincidentally, they did so on days when a high volume of traffic was headed to events there. They arrested or cited a total of 2,388 people, including 171 who were charged with felony drug possession and 782 for misdemeanor drug possession. The rest were on the receiving end of a variety of charges ranging from felony weapons possession to speeding.
Sgt. Marty Elmore, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol district that includes Shannon County, where Camp Zoe is located, says the roadblocks were not part of the larger investigation into suspected illegal activity at Camp Zoe. He acknowledges, however, that they were timed to festivals at the campground.
"Any time we know there are going to be a lot of people going in and out of a place for some kind of special weekend, we'll always try to have a presence in that area, if no other reason than for traffic issues," Elmore says. "We did plan to have special operations that coincided with those events, because there was a lot of people. That's not to say everybody who was arrested at the checkpoints was necessarily going to Camp Zoe or coming from there. I wouldn't want to draw that correlation."
Asked to provide data about arrests at each roadblock at the junction of Route 19 and Highway A since Camp Zoe opened in 2004, Elmore points to an online archive of the department's news releases. The documents detail a significant number of arrests and citations at each roadblock — in fact, only one of the mass stops netted fewer than 100 arrests.
A checkpoint over the weekend of May 23, 2008 — during Schwagstock 37 — resulted in 268 arrests, including 23 for felony drug possession and 107 for misdemeanor drug possession. (In addition, 50 people were cited for not wearing their seatbelts, 15 for driving without a license and 1 for "careless and imprudent driving.")
"We had so many drug arrests [that] when I sent [the press release] off to Jeff City, the clerk said, 'You've got a typo,'" Elmore recalls. "She said, 'There's no way you had 200-and-however-many arrests at this checkpoint.' I said, 'No, that's accurate.'"
Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, says he has received several complaints each year about the Shannon County checkpoints.
"We're opposed to those roadblocks and think they violate the Fourth Amendment," asserts Rothert. "The courts have outlined some times when roadblocks are allowed, but even then they have to be neatly tailored. They can't be general searches for illegal activity."
In recent years members of Greater St. Louis National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws set up signs a few miles ahead of the roadblock warning motorists that their vehicles would be searched. Terri Zeman, codirector of the NORML chapter, says group members handed out ACLU "bust cards" containing information about search-and-seizure rights and warned drivers to wear seatbelts and have proof of car insurance ready.
"We all thought [the roadblocks] were ridiculous," Zeman says. "It's just a terrible waste of time. There's something to be said for drunk-driving checkpoints, but these were clearly targeted at people going to Camp Zoe."
Last summer Shannon County sheriff's deputies arrested two NORML members who erected the roadside signs and charged them with "placing [an] unauthorized sign/signal device on/in view of highway," a misdemeanor.
Tebeau's attorney in the Camp Zoe case, Dan Viets, represents the two NORML members as well. "The charge is baseless," he says. "It is harassment by the Shannon County sheriff's department, who apparently doesn't like people being told of their constitutional rights."
Viets calls the roadblocks "a police-state tactic" and says the high number of drug arrests is not indicative of drug activity at Camp Zoe. "If they started doing [roadblocks] at any large gathering, they'd find people with some prohibited substance," he argues. "The more enforcement activity they concentrate in that area, the more people they'd catch. If they set up outside a Cardinals game, they might catch people too."
According to Tebeau's attorneys, the singer asked Shannon County deputies to help patrol Camp Zoe during festivals, but the request for help was denied. Instead, Tebeau hired a private company. (The owner of the firm B&D Security declined to comment for this story.)
"[Jimmy] tried to nip any drug situation in the bud," says McAuliffe, Tebeau's attorney and friend. "He actually invited local deputies to come and be security guards in the camp. Any bust would have been easy pickings in there if there was a big problem — but they never took him up on that."
Chief Deputy Dewayne Skaggs of the Shannon County Sheriff's Office says the agency didn't have the resources to dispatch deputies to patrol Camp Zoe. What's more, Skaggs says, the additional help was unnecessary.
"They knew if they needed us, we were right around the corner, and we could respond," says the deputy. "That security staff did a really good job — or a decent job — at maintaining their own place. If it was something where it got to where they couldn't handle it, or if somebody got violent, of course they'd call us, and we'd deal it. But for the most part, they handled it internally, and we never had a lot of problems. I think the biggest problem was trespassers."
Sergeant Elmore says the highway patrol tends not to post officers on private property.
"That's not something we'd typically do," the trooper explains. "If we believe that a particular location has an inordinate amount of that kind of [drug] activity and thousands of people present in a small concentration, we'll be hesitant to send a couple troopers in there by themselves, simply because of the gross disparity in number of folks. We're not going to send them into the lion's den."
The Camp Zoe situation has music-festival organizers worried that they too might be held accountable for illegal activity that could transpire during their events.
"It has gotten our attention," affirms Brian Cohen, organizer of LouFest, an indie-rock festival that debuted last summer in Forest Park. "All festivals take on some degree of liability. That's why we hire security, medical personnel, et cetera. But the potential penalties in this case seem to put it in a different category. LouFest and Schwagstock are two very different animals, so it's hard to know what impact this could have on us. But we're definitely watching it."
Roland, the Freedom Center of Missouri attorney, calls the Camp Zoe seizure "a shot across the bow" for individuals who host popular events on private land.
"My home state is Tennessee," Roland says. "What about Bonnaroo? The folks who own that property need to be very aware and very concerned. With any large gathering of young people, there's probably going to be some illegal activity, and if that's taking place, it appears that property could be subject to forfeiture."
Of course, the Camp Zoe case is not the first time federal authorities have attempted to crack down on hippie-friendly festivities. Last year, for instance, agents from the U.S. Forest Service arrested dozens of attendees at a Rainbow Gathering in New Mexico. Garrick Beck, a Rainbow Gathering collaborator in that state, says he's not worried about asset forfeiture because the group always congregates in federally owned forests. But Beck does believe the threat of forfeiture will be an effective scare tactic in the years to come.
"What you've got here is a situation where federal law enforcement is seeking to harass a culture by targeting people who are not directly involved in the drug sales or distribution," he says. "I think that is the essence of the problem that this group is facing. It wouldn't surprise me if federal officers try to use that in other instances to scare people from attending or promoting other counterculture events."
According to attorney Dan Viets, the November 1 raid on Camp Zoe involved about 80 federal agents. Says Viets: "They didn't find so much as a roach" on the property.
"There were several dozen federal agents from all the alphabet soups — IRS, DEA, ATF — backed up by local cops who came onto the property with federal subpoenas," Viets reports. "They basically asked for business records, which they got."
The DEA and U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the specifics of the ongoing investigation.
An official statement published on the campground's website says "one patron was arrested for previous warrants unrelated to Camp Zoe" and notes that the seized money "was to be used to pay staff, artists, security, production (lights & sound), trash pickup, etc. for the festival weekend. It was also to be used for the basic bills for Camp Zoe to get the business through the winter."
McAuliffe says the campground will remain closed for the duration of the forfeiture proceedings and that Schwagstocks will return next summer at other yet-to-be-determined venues in Missouri.
"Jimmy has lived on the Camp Zoe property with his family for over six years," he says. "Lately they have been staying in the St. Louis area. It remains to be seen if Jimmy and his family can move back to Camp Zoe.
"This is a travesty," McAuliffe adds, noting that Camp Zoe generated — and paid — more than $200,000 in tax revenue in the seven years it was open. "To me [Jimmy] was being a good guy by taking a campground that was undeveloped and sitting there fallow and turning it into a vibrant economic asset for Shannon County."
Camp Zoe supporters organized a benefit concert on Christmas night at the Roberts Orpheum Theater featuring Tebeau's band the Schwag. The event raised roughly $4,500. A monthly series of "Throw for Zoe" fundraisers commenced with a January 29 show at the Roberts Orpheum, and Tebeau is accepting donations via the Camp Zoe website to contribute to a legal-defense fund and cover bills over the winter. Viets and McAuliffe are working the case pro bono. Because asset forfeiture is not their specialty, they've brought on St. Louis attorney Scott Rosenblum to represent them in the federal case.
What makes matters complicated, McAuliffe says, is the fact that Tebeau and Camp Zoe are not typical targets of asset-forfeiture investigations.
"We don't fit the forfeiture profile of jewelry, luxury cars, a crib and maybe a restaurant front-operation," McAuliffe says. "It was always about the music and the health/aesthetic aspect of the Ozarks for [Jimmy]. That is why he moved his family there. I'd be very surprised to see any evidence that at some point he decided to say, 'Hang it. I'll become a drug kingpin.' That would have put his entire plan in jeopardy — everything he had worked and borrowed for."