Camp Zoe Seizure: Could Other Music Festivals Face Trouble, Too?

Dec 3, 2010 at 8:30 am
click to enlarge Is this SWAT team coming to a music festival near you? - Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Is this SWAT team coming to a music festival near you?
Carrie Goebel went to sleep this Halloween in her own version of paradise. She woke up to a nightmare.

The 46-year-old artist from Warrenton, Missouri, spent the last weekend in October camping out at Camp Zoe's Spookstock music festival. "It was a good time, the weather was great, there were lots of good costumes," she 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 other Spookstock holdovers awoke to find a small army of law enforcement officers storming 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 says. "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 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 DEA and the Missouri State Highway Patrol into alleged drug use and sales by Camp Zoe concertgoers. No one -- including Camp Zoe owner Jimmy Tebeau -- has been charged with a crime, but the eastern Missouri U.S. Attorney's Office is attempting to confiscate the 352-acre property using a controversial process called asset forfeiture.

It's not just alarming to festival attendees like Goebel. The situation has other music festival organizers worried that they, too, might be held accountable for any illegal activity that happens to take place at their event.

"It has gotten our attention," says Brian Cohen, the organizer of St. Louis' LouFest. "All festivals take on some degree of liability. That's why we hire security, medical personnel, etc. 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."

Dave Roland, an attorney with the for the non-profit advocacy group Freedom Center of Missouri, calls the Camp Zoe seizure "a shot across the bow" for individuals who host music festivals or 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 New Mexico, says he's not worried about facing asset forfeiture, because the group always congregates in federally-owned National Forests. However, Beck does believe that 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."

Dan Viets, Tebeau's attorney, says the November 1 raid on Camp Zoe involved about 80 federal agents and 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 says. "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 Camp Zoe website says "one patron was arrested for previous warrants unrelated to Camp Zoe." The message also says, "the same day the DEA seized all the money in the Camp Zoe bank account -- which included most of the gate receipts for the Spookstock 9 weekend. This 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."

Emmett McAuliffe, another attorney representing Tebeau and Camp Zoe, says that the campground will remain closed for the duration of the asset forfeiture proceedings, but the Schwagstock festivals will continue next year at other yet-to-be-determined venues in Missouri.

"This is a travesty," McAuliffe says. "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."

McAuliffe says Tebeau and Camp Zoe are accepting donations via their website for a legal defense fund and to pay the venue's bills during the winter. Camp Zoe supporters have also organized a benefit concert on Christmas night at the Roberts Orpheum Theater featuring Tebeau's band the Schwag.