David Eckberg, the face of Stillwater’s once-prominent Lumberjack Days regional summer festival, will wait another three months before going to trial on felony charges that he issued worthless checks to three vendors and a youth group.
A jury trial scheduled to begin last week was postponed until Feb. 3.
Two years have elapsed since a flurry of complaints to Stillwater police that Eckberg didn’t pay his bills after the 2011 festival. In response, Eckberg countered that stormy weather had cut sharply into festival profits.
Lumberjack Days, held four days each July, ranked among the best-attended festivals in the metro area since the 1990s.
It featured free concerts on the St. Croix riverfront by yesteryear bands that once were major national headliners, and attractions included lumberjack competitions, fireworks and a parade that might have qualified as Minnesota’s longest.
Popular as it was, Lumberjack Days endured repeated complaints from creditors wanting their money and concerns from some Stillwater residents and business owners that the festival had become a beer-soaked event and lost its local appeal.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput filed criminal charges against Eckberg in November 2012.
Five of the felony counts allege theft by check and five allege issuance of a dishonored check.
Eckberg’s attorney, Eric Thole, petitioned the court in September, saying that Eckberg never intended to defraud his creditors, and that he had “extended credit” agreements with businesses and booster clubs he owed. That extended credit didn’t amount to criminal behavior because of a principle known as “past consideration” in which creditors offer goods and services without first receiving a check to do so, Thole argued.
District Judge Susan Miles strongly disagreed. Her order, filed Oct. 15, determined that defense arguments that prosecutors lacked probable cause in charging Eckberg “are substantially devoid of merit.”
The judge denied Thole’s motion seeking dismissal of all charges.
“Ultimately, all four payees, after having their checks dishonored, abandoned hope that defendant would make his victims whole,” Miles wrote. “Much as defendant attempts to parse these transactions into separate events, first involving services rendered, followed by, second, a promise to pay at a later date, he falls woefully short.”
Much of the order Miles wrote addressed Eckberg’s financial relationship with two beer distributors. She wrote that there “is no dispute” that he issued a check to Needham Distributing Co. for $22,680 and another to Hohensteins Inc. for $2,179.25. Eckberg’s expectation, the judge wrote, was that he would return unconsumed beer and exchange original checks for replacement checks to pay for beer actually sold at the festival.
“By entering into this arrangement, he gained truckloads of beer which was available for his use and sale throughout the four-day run of the festival,” Miles wrote. Aside from whether Eckberg possessed the unused beer, Miles wrote, “clearly he controlled a vast quantity of unused beer, as well as beer which he sold, for which the distributors were not paid.”
Eckberg also is charged with issuing a worthless check to Icabod Productions, a music equipment company, for $20,000, and Stillwater Blue Line Boosters for $10,000.