Focus on Jabs' Daughter Distracts Coverage of Montana Drug Bust

December 11 2008, 8:52 AM

Local media outlets have missed the real story in covering the recent federal drug bust of Teri Jabs Kurth, daughter of American Furniture Warehouse founder and ubiquitous Colorado television presence Jake Jabs. Ms. Jabs Kurth and her co-defendant (with whom she resides) have pleaded not guilty to charges in an indictment (pdf) that they distributed and maintained premises for the storage, use, and distribution of cocaine (either gratuitously or for sale) for a period of four years. Each faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. The premises are their homes in Red Lodge and Billings, Montana, both of which the government is now seeking to forfeit, along with Jabs Kurth's Lincoln Navigator. 9News, the Associated Press, and The Denver Post have focused on Jabs' daughter, undoubtedly because of her father's local celebrity, when the much greater story is that her co-defendant/boyfriend, Robert Eddleman, an elected county attorney responsible for prosecuting crimes, is accused of engaging in illegal drug activity for the past four years.

Eddleman was elected in 2006. Prior to that he was an elected Stillwater, Montana, county attorney, a staff attorney at a public defender's office, and had unsuccessfully campaigned for a judgeship on the Montana Supreme Court. Prosecutors are not only sworn to uphold the law; they are granted the discretion and authority to charge members of their community with crimes and cause them to be imprisoned, if convicted. When a prosecutor breaks the law, it's a big deal. Even prosecutors charged with D.U.I.s make headlines. Here we have a prosecutor charged with serious federal drug crimes. That's the story, not Teri Jabs Kurth. Another glossed-over part of this story is the use of a confidential informant, referred to as "D.B." in the indictment, to make the case. If the feds promised the guy anonymity, they did a lousy job. It took me all of five minutes to get his name from publicly available court records and find that his arrest preceded Eddleman's and Jabs Kurth's by less than a week. A few newspapers in Montana and Colorado also learned this and printed his name. Eddleman's lawyer confirmed to the Billings Gazette that the cases are related. The paper also reports D.B. has three prior drug convictions in Illinois. Around the time of the Eddleman-Jabs Kurth bust, the government advised D.B. it would seek to enhance his penalties to a minimum of ten years and maximum of life in prison. The government also requested he be detained without bond, pending trial. And what happens next? Eddleman and Jabs Kurth are arrested on cocaine charges, and D.B.'s attorney withdraws his request for bond. Translation: D.B. struck a deal. I have to wonder why the feds are so willing to trust the word of this (apparently) newly minted informant. Even assuming D.B. wore a wire after his arrest, catching Eddleman and/or Jabs Kurth on tape buying or selling drugs from him (again, just an assumption, no such facts have been disclosed), why did federal agents and prosecutors believe that the arrangement had been going on four years? On the other hand, the feds are pretty careful before they take down a fellow law enforcer, so perhaps, as Eddleman said after he pleaded not guilty this week, there is more to the story. But for the fact that an elected prosecutor is charged will illegal cocaine activity, I'd say the case is no big deal: The gist of the charges is that the couple held parties at their homes at which cocaine was made available to guests. Illegal? You bet. A federal case? Hardly. Still, however you slice it, the story is not Teri Jabs Kurth; it's prosecutor Robert Eddleman. The local news engages in a disservice to the public when it trumpets in headlines that "Jake Jabs' daughter" has been charged in a federal drug case while reducing the details about her co-defendant, the county prosecutor, to the equivalent of a footnote.

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