Judge finds Vogt is not guilty

Published 1:51 pm Friday, April 30, 2010

Community Editor

John Vogt believes an operation — named On the Road Again — carried out by N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement at a Willie Nelson concert was instrumental in his release as executive director of the Duplin County Events Center.
Vogt, the former executive director of the Turnage Theaters Foundation in Washington, will finish his tenure with the center today. He was employed by VenuWorks, a management firm contracted by Duplin County to manage the center.
The management firm decided to terminate its contract with the county, effective March 31, following the ALE operation, according to Duplin County Manager Mike Aldridge. He said VenuWorks had been at odds with the Duplin County Board of Commissioners.
“Then the Willie Nelson fiasco was the icing on the cake,” Aldridge said.
Nelson, a Grammy-winning country singer, was set to perform at the events center Jan. 28. Prior to the concert, ALE agents charged members of his band with misdemeanor drug and alcohol offenses. Vogt and Donald Farrior, a security guard at the events center, were cited for resisting, delaying and obstructing an inspection of an ABC-licensed venue.
At an April 21 hearing in Duplin County District Court, Judge Henry L. Stevens IV found Vogt not guilty of interfering with the state agency’s inspection.
Vogt’s defense attorney, Kennedy L. Thompson, said he was honored to work the case.
“I was obviously interested because we had a big country-music star in Duplin County and the concert was canceled, and I heard all sorts of rumors,” he said.
After reviewing the case, Thompson said, it was obvious to him that the ALE agents were at the event to “bust Willie and make a name for themselves.”
According to Thompson, ALE was asked to provide security for the concert by the Kenansville Police Department.
He said the incident, including the charge filed against Vogt by ALE agent Kenny Simma for interfering with his inspection, didn’t have a “ring of integrity.”
Vogt said that during a “normal” ALE inspection a single agent inspects the center’s four bars and tells the bartenders to look out for underage drinking and the like.
“They walked through the building, past the four bars, asking, ‘Where’s Willie’s bus?’” Vogt said.
In his closing remarks in court, Thompson said he argued that Vogt could not have been interfering with an ALE inspection because an inspection never took place.
A call to ALE’s district office in Wilmington was not returned.
“I’m not condoning anything Willie or his band did; just the whole smell of it was not good,” Thompson said. “I especially like to try cases where my client needs to be vindicated.”
Aldridge said he’s glad Vogt was judged not guilty, adding that he feels awful about Vogt’s departure.
“I feel terrible,” he said. “He’s been the guy to take the fall for this.”
As county manager, Aldridge said, he is even more concerned about the future of the events center. He said the On the Road Again operation has cast a “big shadow” over Duplin County.
Vogt said that performers, including country music stars Vince Gill and Amy Grant, slated to perform at the events center have canceled shows since the incident.
“We basically lost our concert business,” he said. “There were a bunch of things in the works that just evaporated.”
Aldridge said that since opening five years ago, the events center had gotten incrementally better.
“The general consensus is it was improving,” Thompson said, agreeing with Aldridge. “This concert basically brought down any hope in the near future for entertainers coming back here.”
Thompson said the incident caused Vogt a lot of grief and stress, but it will be more damaging to the taxpayers of Duplin County.
“Who it hurt most was the citizens of Duplin County. The amount of money lost to the county is going to be astronomical,” he said.