Police say church fest was a drug fest
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Authorities said there were four head shops that had 1,000 marijuana pipes for sale.
People working like cocktail waitresses walked the crowd, selling "Ganja" treats -- including Rice Krispies snacks believed to be laced with marijuana, according to authorities.
A total of 22 people were arrested Saturday evening as the Fayette County Drug Task Force raided the 47-acre Bullskin site of the Church of Universal Love and Music.
At 4:30 p.m., just about the time Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk was about to go on as part of the church's three-day Funk Fest, a team of 30 law enforcement officers were staging themselves.
The task force -- armed with a search warrant and evidence from two previous undercover drug buys from concerts in May and July -- raided the church property, which includes a main stage, campgrounds, a vendor row and a special VIP area.
Those arrested included concert-goers, the people running the head shops, as well as those selling the treats.
"It was as bad as it could be," said Assistant District Attorney Mark D. Brooks, coordinator of the task force. "We recovered so much paraphernalia, we had to use two trailers to haul it down the mountain."
While police recovered a large amount of drugs on the grounds, they found even more on the concert-goers.
Illegal substances seized included several pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms, several pounds of marijuana, hash and LSD.
The operator of the church, Willie Pritts, was not charged.
Last night, Mr. Pritts' attorney, Gregory Koerner, was outraged by the raid and arrests and said he felt the church was purposely targeted.
"We feel there were gross violations of Mr. Pritts' and the church's rights," Mr. Koerner said. "This was excessive, unwarranted, and we're going to be forced to seek redress and take it back to federal court."
In February, Mr. Pritts and Fayette County reached a settlement on the eve of trial in a 2006 federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming that the county's failure to issue him a special exception permit violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
The county, however, argued that Mr. Pritts did not prove that he was operating a church and instead argued he used the land for daylong concerts and illegal drugs.
As part of the settlement agreement, the county paid Mr. Pritts $75,000 and would allow him to hold 12 events per year. For his part, he was to forbid public nudity and illegal drug use.
"[Saturday's] enforcement action, which started at the very first concert, seems to violate the spirit of the settlement," Mr. Koerner said.
Mr. Brooks said the task force had received information that there was rampant drug use there.
"No one ever approached me and asked us to do this," he said. "I've never seen the settlement agreement. I wasn't part of that process."
When officers started their undercover investigation on May 16, within moments of their arrival, the prosecutor said, they saw people openly smoking marijuana. They were also offered pot and hallucinogenic mushrooms to buy, he said.
When the officers were undercover in July, they bought LSD.
Mr. Brooks called the drug use "pervasive" at the church site.
During the raid, he estimated that less than half of the concert-goers were searched.
"It was a tactically complex warrant to serve," Mr. Brooks said. "We were severely outnumbered."
While the ratio of officers to concert-goers didn't seem to affect the investigation early on, within a few hours the crowd started to get more restless.
"People started shouting at us -- about what we do, personal insults," he said. "It got bad. We started to get concerned for our personal safety.
"We packed up as quickly as we could and got out of there."
Those arrested arrested on felony counts were given $25,000 straight cash bonds; those charged with misdemeanors had to make $10,000 cash bonds.
First Published August 3, 2009 12:00 am