Alcohol raid at Wild Country event brings questions, draws ire of officials
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From Staff Reports
A local businesswoman was cited by Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) officers on Saturday at Wild Country Off Road for allegedly selling alcohol without a permit.
Tianey Lee Welford, 53, of Irvin Turner Sr. Road, Leakesville, was cited for misdemeanor possession of alcoholic beverages with the intent to resale without an ABC permit. Welford was set up as a vendor at the ATV park during a big weekend event that drew thousands of visitors and featured a concert by renowned country music recording artist Travis Tritt Saturday night. Along with the citation, ABC agents shut down Welford’s vending operation and confiscated over 2,000 cans of beer, light wine and mixed alcoholic beverages.
Attendees at the event and local officials who have become familiar with the situation are calling the charge against Welford embarrassing and are saying it left a blight on what was otherwise a great event for the facility, the attendees and local businesses who benefitted from the extra traffic in their stores. But, the frustration (and anger in many cases) is not focused at Welford. Instead, the actions of the ABC agents and those responsible for the licensing are being called into question.
“I personally have never seen a more obvious case of overreach by a state agency,” said Leakesville attorney Chris Dobbins who is representing Welford pro-bono in this matter. “At worst, this is a clerical error, not some bootlegging operation.”
“Mrs. Welford has a permit to sell alcohol at her business. The facility (Wild Country) has a permit. And, she applied for and received an additional permit from the Town of Leakesville for this event. She made every effort, and went well out of her way to do what was required of her and to go about this the right way. And, her reward for that is to be publically humiliated and to suffer a several thousand dollar loss to her business.”
Officials with the Town of Leakesville also issued a statement in support of Welford.
“It appears that a local vendor made a good faith effort to comply with state law and local ordinances in an effort to legally sell beer at the Travis Tritt concert on Saturday, April 30,” town officials said in an emailed statement following the regular meeting of the mayor and board of aldermen on Tuesday afternoon. “This was a very big tourist attraction for our small town, and a great deal of private investment went into it. It’s disappointing that someone chose to create an FBI-style raid over what appears to have been, at worst, a clerical mistake.”
“Town officials will be asking our state officials to investigate how this blew up so needlessly at the heavy cost for local entrepreneurs.
The group of officers that converged on the ATV park had a search warrant from Greene County Justice Court that had been issued on April 29, a day before the event at the park. A copy of that warrant viewed by the Herald gave officers authority to search the “location and all vehicles owned or controlled by the owners/employees”. The location listed was 17424 Highway 63 North, which is the ATV park’s address. The search warrant stated the location was occupied and controlled by Briand Dearman and person’s unknown.
Dearman, who is the owner and manager of Wild Country Off Road, was not cited during the raid. Dearman said Welford was a vendor, and while he was not involved with her operation, he believed she had done what was needed to operate legally at the event and was being unfairly treated.
“We had an artist the caliber of Travis Tritt and had several thousand people here to see him perform,” Dearman said Monday. “Having a concert like this and drawing this type of crowd to our community should have been the story, not this mess.”
“This situation did not stop this from being a great event. But, unfortunately, something that was completely avoidable and unnecessary did tarnish it a little. Tianey was up front about everything she was doing and from my perspective did everything right. She was given some bad information and is the one being punished.”
Welford said she was not totally shocked by a visit from ABC officials and said that mindset led her to take extra steps to make sure she had all of the documentation she needed.
“I got my permit from the Town of Leakesville, but also checked with county officials, the sheriff and others to make sure I had everything in order,” Welford said. “I even called the Department of Revenue and was told that I was good to go, that I had everything I needed.”
Welford said she felt comfortable with her situation and did not even think to ask for the person’s name she spoke with at the DOR. She said when she showed the agent in charge the permit she had, he informed her she was supposed to have a single day permit from the state as well. She said was told that the cost of the permit was around $25.
“What can I say,” Welford added. “I did all the things I thought I was supposed to do.”
“It’s a bad thing, but I have gotten a lot of support from people in the community and at the end of the day, I know this will lead to a better understanding of how the system works for everyone involved. So maybe my situation will keep someone else around here to have to go through this.”
Welford has a court date set for later this month in Greene County Justice Court. If found guilty of the charge, she could be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to one year. According to the statute, any person so convicted may not apply for any permit or license issued by the commissioner for five years.