Assault allegations emerge against prominent Terlingua man

TERLINGUA — Jeff Leach, a businessman and self-described diet and gut researcher with ties to Terlingua, has been accused of assault by multiple women.

Leach launched Basecamp Terlingua, a popular getaway that this year earned a spot in a Texas Monthly guide of places to stay in Texas. He has an international profile, having spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival, served as a visiting fellow at King’s College London and founded the nonprofit Human Food Project.

Since July, at least three women have come forward to accuse Leach of assault — including two women who gave sworn affidavits this month and one woman who previously filed an incident report, court documents filed last Friday in Brewster County reveal. One of the women accuses Leach of raping her. Another accuses him of sexual assault.

In another case, from 2017, a judge granted a fourth woman a restraining order after Leach allegedly threatened to harm her, The Big Bend Sentinel has learned.

Some of the allegations have surfaced in court because Leach is currently suing one alleged victim for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Leach did not respond to requests to comment for this story sent to his academic email and his email for his nonprofit.

His lawyer, Rae Leifeste, declined to comment on questions about the lawsuit and the allegations against Leach. In an emailed statement, he said the “appropriate forum for addressing all of these issues” will be in December, when the lawsuit is set to have a public hearing.

“I feel all counsel and parties should refrain from comment outside of this forum,” the statement reads. “Thank you for your excellent questions.”

In a follow-up email on Wednesday, Leifeste stressed that he does not “discuss facts of a pending case” outside of court and that “attorneys should not ‘try their cases in the media.’”

Leach’s court response, he said, would include “unequivocal denial of any and all assault allegations” and “evidence that will challenge the accuracy and credibility of the allegations.”

The Human Food Project could not be reached for comment, and Basecamp Terlingua did not respond to a request for comment.

In July, Katy Milam — a former employee at Basecamp Terlingua — filed a report with the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office. Milam, who also goes by Schwartz, including in her incident report and court filings, accused Leach of attempted rape.

Earlier this year, Milam said she was with Leach and a woman described as his girlfriend. When his girlfriend left the room, Leach allegedly told Milam his girlfriend wanted to have a threesome. The girlfriend returned, and she and Leach started arguing about the comment. Milam left, according to an incident report based on her statement to authorities.

On June 27, Milam said she went to speak with Leach’s girlfriend. There, Leach allegedly pinned Milam down and tried to kiss her. He allegedly told her “he wanted her and he gets what he wants,” according to the report. Milam told authorities she “used all her strength” to break free.

Milam chose not to press charges and instead “only wanted this incident documented,” according to the report. Leach had allegedly “left to Canada.”

Leach has denied her allegations in court. In September, he filed a lawsuit against Milam in Brewster County, accusing her of “extreme and outrageous conduct” and making “false defamatory statements.” The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount of damages.

Milam’s lawyers, Jodi Cole and Liz Rogers, have asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. They argue that Milam is protected by the First Amendment and the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which protects people from getting sued for using their legal rights.

“Mrs. Schwartz has a protected constitutional right to express what happened to her,” the lawyers wrote in one motion to dismiss, from October. “Her communication was by definition a public concern, because it was related to her own, and other women’s, safety.”

After Leach filed suit, he, or presumably someone associated with him, allegedly manufactured stickers, according to court filings by Milam’s lawyers. Milam noticed them in Terlingua, as did a friend.

“Katy lied,” read the stickers, which are pictured in one court exhibit.

Last Friday, in Brewster County Courthouse, lawyers Cole and Rogers filed another motion. In it are sworn affidavits from two women who allege that Leach also assaulted them.

The affidavits — both of which date from last week — are more evidence of “Jeff Leach’s propensity to assault women,” Cole and Rogers argue in their latest motion.

First, there’s a woman who gave a sworn affidavit on November 5. That woman asked The Big Bend Sentinel not to identify her in our story. We have redacted some details to protect her privacy.

In her affidavit, the woman stated that, in 2014, Leach allegedly raped her. “This was a violent assault,” she stated. “There was no consent.”

After the alleged rape, the woman felt “weak and broken,” according to her affidavit.

“I avoided Terlingua,” she stated. “I was scared to return to Terlingua alone for some time.”

“Jeff Leach is a powerful man in this area,” she stated. “I worry about how he may have influenced people’s feelings about my reputation.”

Another affidavit alleging abuse by Leach was filed Thursday, November 7, by Alaine Berg.

In May 2018, Berg stated, she joined a small group of people, including Leach, for a get-together in Marathon.

Leach allegedly put his hand on Berg’s leg in what she initially took to be “a friendly way, kind of like patting my leg,” Berg stated in her own affidavit. Then, Leach allegedly put his hand up her shorts “without any warning” and sexually assaulted her.

“Coming forward was not something that I did lightly,” Berg stated. “But I have come forward because I feel that Jeff Leach is a dangerous person to women and our society.”

“I feel a responsibility to speak truthfully about my assault by Jeff Leach,” she stated. “I do not want this to happen to others in our community.”

Milam and Berg agreed to be named in this story but declined to comment beyond the allegations made in their incident report and affidavit.

In 2017, a fourth woman petitioned for a temporary restraining order after Leach allegedly engaged in a “pattern of actions and conduct calculated to threaten and harm” her.

In emails, Leach allegedly called her a misogynistic slur and threatened to “punch you in the f—ing mouth.” In May 2017, a judge granted the restraining order, calling the order “appropriate.” That woman did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked if there was an active criminal investigation into Leach, the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment but confirmed that complaints have been made against him.

Cole and Rogers have also entered other exhibits which do not involve sexual assault.

In 2003, for example, an El Paso court ruled that Leach violated deceptive trade-practice and consumer-protection rules after he reportedly billed people for magazines that never came and a Middle East tour that never materialized. Leach “failed to appear and answer” in court, the judgment states.