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'Funk Fest' leads to arrests for churchgoers in Fayette

| Monday, Aug. 3, 2009

"Funk Fest" became one big bust at the Church of Universal Love and Music.

The Fayette County Drug Task Force arrested more than 20 people this weekend during a drug raid on the self-proclaimed nondenominational church's 147-acre property in Bullskin. Authorities seized enough marijuana, hash brownies, hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, laughing gas and drug paraphernalia to pack two storage trailers with a capacity of about 3,000 pounds, District Attorney Nancy Vernon said yesterday.

Authorities asked a judge for a search warrant after undercover officers attending separate events in May and July witnessed people openly selling and using drugs and "head shops" selling drug paraphernalia, said Mark Brooks, the county's assistant district attorney in charge of drug enforcement.

Brooks said he initially doubted the undercover officer's accounts of drug use at earlier events.

"They made it sound like Woodstock on steroids," he said. "But within minutes of getting out of the undercover vehicle they observed people walking around smoking marijuana in the open. And we never asked to purchase drugs; people came up to us offering drugs. ... All we did was stand there like patrons listening to the music."

The raid began about 5 p.m. Saturday at the site where church founder and property owner William "Willie" Pritts received clearance from county officials to resume holding concerts.

During a lengthy property dispute that began in 2005 and ended this year, Pritts, the members of the church and many of those attending concerts there argued that their form of religious worship entails listening to bands.

Between 500 and 600 people were dancing, partying and socializing Saturday. Many concertgoers fled to surrounding woods, leaving behind large amounts of marijuana, unspecified pills and baked goods laced with drugs, Brooks said.

One person was charged with possessing four 60-pound tanks of nitrous oxide he was selling in large balloons for $5, Brooks said. Another was found to be in possession of five tabs of LSD. Another had $3,000 cash from selling hallucinogenic mushrooms, authorities said.

The suspects were arraigned overnight Saturday. All were taken to Fayette County Prison. Several were released on bond yesterday, a prison official said.

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