Click here to read our latest follow-up, which takes a look at how state troopers have arrested more than 2,000 people at checkpoints near Camp Zoe
One day after Daily RFT
broke the news that federal law enforcement agencies and the Missouri State Highway Patrol are attempting to seize Camp Zoe
, a 350-acre campground in central Missouri that hosts the Schwagstock music festivals, the attorney for the property owner is defending his client -- and criticizing the asset forfeiture process being used by the government.
In a complaint filed earlier this week, the U.S. Attorney's office alleges that Schwagstock gatherings have been the site of widespread drug use and sales, and that property owner Jimmy Tebeau
and his staff "took no immediate action to prevent the activity."
"It's a terrible thing to think that the government could just march in and take someone's money, take someone's property," says Dan Viets
, the Columbia attorney representing Tebeau. "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."
Viets, who is also the coordinator of Missouri NORML
and a trustee for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri
, says that the government isn't just seizing Tebeau's land. They also raided his personal bank account.
"They took all of his money from his bank account," 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 its 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. Until a judge rules otherwise, Tebeau still 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."
Unfortunately for Viets and Tebeau, experts in civil forfeiture cases say they face an uphill battle to prove their innocence. And yes, the way federal laws are structured, the burden of proof is actually their problem, not the feds.