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As 20-year-old Jake Dagel flew from Nashville to Omaha late last month, he finally had time to reflect on the things he'd experienced while working for Bradlee Dean's "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International" ministry for the previous seven weeks.
Dagel was on that flight because around 3 a.m. that morning, he had gotten off a You Can Run van in rural Tennessee. He, a handful of other You Can Run street evangelism team members, and their boss, Chase Schomburg, were on the way back to the Midwest from Florida, where they had been soliciting funds for Dean's ministry outside gas stations and Walmarts.
During an early morning stop in Pulawski, Tennessee, Dagel says Schomburg told him it was his turn to pay for a tank of gas. But Dagel says the only money he had to his name after seven weeks of trying to drum up funds for Dean was already earmarked for his car payment. (Because of a confidentiality agreement, Dagel couldn't discuss specifics about his compensation.)
When he told Schomburg he couldn't pay up, Dagel says he was told to either figure something out or grab his belongings and get out of the vehicle. Dagel says he chose the latter and walked two miles to a hotel, where he used his car payment money to get a room.
"I didn't want to be sleeping under a bridge," Dagel told City Pages.
Hours later, Dagel called Dean's right-hand man, Jake MacAulay, to tell him about the incident with Schomburg.
MacAulay "sounded flabbergasted," Dagel recalls. "He got Chase on the phone and we had a three-way conversation. [But] during the course of it things turned. They said it was my choice to leave because Chase would never leave somebody behind."
Dagel said MacAulay and Schomburg ended up suggesting he should've skipped meals in order to save money for the tank of gas.
Later in the day, Dagel says MacAulay called back and told him Schomburg would turn around to pick him up. But by that time Dagel wanted no part of getting back in the van and instead contacted his family, who arranged for him to fly from Tennessee back up to the Midwest.
Dagel's seven-week stint with You Can Run began when he and Dean appeared on the same radio show in Iowa last spring. At the time, Dagel, a 20-year-old student at the Ankeny campus of the Des Moines Community College system, had gained a bit of national prominence for successfully suing his school in a federal free-speech lawsuit. Dagel was upset that public dollars were being spent on an LGBTQ conference that was to be held on campus, and sued after the school restricted his ability to freely distribute fliers objecting to the $1,000 public subsidy for the conference.
After the radio show, Dagel says MacAulay got in touch with him, told him Dean "loves what you're doing," and asked if he'd help arrange for Dean to come speak at his campus. Dagel did, and after Dean's speech, Dagel says MacAulay told him, "Why don't you come up to Minnesota with us tomorrow, check it out, and we'll talk about possible employment."
Dagel took MacAulay up on his offer and ultimately agreed to go to work for You Can Run. But it quickly became apparent the work wasn't going to be what he expected going in.
"The original plan was for me to develop a program to teach other college students and high school students how to defend religious freedoms and First Amendment rights on their campuses," Dagel recalls. "That's something a lot of conservatives feel are under attack."
But since summer was quickly approaching, Dagel says, the You Can Run brain trust instead asked him to work for the street evangelism team until school was back in session. So Dagel hit the road.
Dagel says "things started off pretty soft," but there was an ominous incident in Minot, North Dakota, during his first You Can Run road trip. After one of his typical 12-plus hour days fundraising, Dagel was back in his hotel room watching Pawn Stars when Schomburg entered.
"He told me, 'We don't watch this stuff — if you want to watch TV, get your own room,'" Dagel says.
As he flew to meet his family in Omaha following the Tennessee incident, Dagel thought about a number of expenses he incurred as a result of the ordeal, including the hotel room and flight. He says he later determined he was shafted out of two days pay in his final check from You Can Run.
So he decided to send an email to Dean, MacAulay, and Schomburg demanding $829. And he's speaking out.
A spokesman for You Can Run declined comment citing pending litigation.