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SALEM, Mo., January 6, 2011 - For seven summers, Camp Zoe, a serene campground and concert venue located on 370 acres of land along the scenic Current River outside of Salem, Mo., has been a favorite destination for fans of music and the great outdoors from all over the Midwest. The site of the annual "Schwagstock" music festival put on by campground owner Jimmy Tebeau's band, The Schwag, Camp Zoe is in danger of being shut down, its land seized by state and Federal law enforcement.
On the morning of November 1, officers from the Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Missouri State Highway patrol, and local and regional police departments raided the campground, confiscating gate revenue from Camp Zoe's Spookstock 9 Halloween concert event, as well as financial records. Later that day, the DEA seized the funds in the Camp Zoe bank account, nearly $200,000 designated to pay staff, artists, security, production, sanitation and other vendors of the festival as well as basic expenses to keep Camp Zoe running over the winter.
On November 8, government agencies filed an application to seize the Camp Zoe property, although no arrest warrants have been issued for any of the Camp Zoe staff or owners at this time. Citing observed sales and purchases of illegal drugs at Schwagstock and other events over a four-year period, the application alleges that Camp Zoe staff were present on the property at the time these incidents occurred.
Officials are using a process called civil forfeiture by which the Government sues the property on which a crime took place, rather than its owner. The owner is effectively a third party claimant and need not be guilty of any crime, making the burden of proof very low.
At the time the civil forfeiture was filed, no charges had been brought against Camp Zoe owners. Jimmy Tebeau has recently been charged with six felony counts of tax evasion for delinquent payment of sales tax - money which was taken when the government seized the Camp Zoe bank account. Faced with the camp's assets being taken, Tebeau has been unable to pay the taxes owed or pay the camp's mortgage, which is now falling behind, putting it at risk of foreclosure.
"That is one of the issues in this case; is forfeiture a proper tool, or was it properly used in this case?" says Emmett McAuliffe, one of Tebeau's team of attorneys on the case. "There are problems that exist in society at large such as drug use, violence or drunken driving. When you assemble large numbers of people for a recreational event, those problems are not going to disappear. Should a property owner be punished because he can't make those larger problems go away, even when he is operating an otherwise legitimate public event? If so, the very legitimacy of outdoor rock concerts is threatened."
The case is creating discussion across the music festival circuit. With numerous music and camping festivals drawing large youth audiences around the country, the boundaries of liability are being called into question and independent producers like Tebeau are at risk of losing their property fighting big government entities, while similar activity exists at large, corporately-owned venues that suffer no consequences.
"Without sufficient money to get adequate representation, the tendency will be for Mom and Pop defendants like the Tebeaus to throw in the towel," says McAuliffe "The government has seized their money and if they do not have the funds to challenge this, the precedent of the government's ability to take cash and land in a situation like this would stand and it will have a ripple effect within the entertainment and outdoor recreation industries."
Camp Zoe has hosted more than 40 successful events in the past seven years with very few incidents, generating more than $200,000 in tax revenue. Schwagstock and other Camp Zoe events have drawn big name recording artists such as String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band, Keller Williams, Michael Franti, Karl Denson and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic among others, and crowds of over 7,000 have come from across the region for the weekends of music and camping.
Fans of Schwagstock and Camp Zoe, along with The Schwag, have launched a full-scale campaign to save the beloved campground and future festivals. Tebeau has set up a "Save Camp Zoe Fund" in care of his attorneys to pay for legal fees and basic operating bills for Camp Zoe while the case is appealed and donations are being sought from fans and friends.
"Our goal is to prove our innocence and stay in business," Tebeau says. "We are counting on our fans to help us through this."
The Schwag is planning several benefit concerts to help with donations. Fans can visit the Camp Zoe website at www.campzoe.com for benefit info and updates on the case.
Those who wish to support Camp Zoe can send a donation via check or money order payable to "Save Camp Zoe Fund c/o Riezman Berger" and mail to: Riezman Berger PC, 7700 Bonhomme Ave., 7th Floor, Clayton, Missouri 63105
About Camp Zoe Originally established in 1929 as a youth camp, thousands of area children attended summer camp at Camp Zoe until it closed in 1986. Jimmy Tebeau of The Schwag purchased the property in the spring of 2004, creating the current facility featuring a campground and concert stages with capacity for 10,000 in a natural amphitheater setting, as well as outdoor activities like canoeing, hiking, fishing and swimming. For more information, visit www.campzoe.com.