Texan convicted of duping investors over fake Disney park
SHERMAN, Texas (AP) — A jury on Friday convicted a member of a Dallas-area real estate family of duping investors with tales of a fake Walt Disney theme park and resort project.
The federal jury in North Texas deliberated less than a half day in Sherman before convicting Thomas W. Lucas Jr. on all charges: seven wire fraud counts and one count of making false statements to the FBI.
Investors complained they overpaid for land in Collin and Denton counties that they were told was on the fringes of the future theme park. In court documents, the investors said Lucas, 40, of Plano, Texas, showed them fake and forged artist sketches, maps, site plans and other documents related to "Frontier Disney Dallas-Fort Worth" to dupe them. The investors planned to flip the land to developers at a profit when the Disney announcement was made.
Numerous partnerships, joint ventures and limited liability companies were set up to begin acquiring land in the area. Prosecutors said that from 2006 to 2010, Lucas defrauded more than 50 investors out of about $14 million.
The Walt Disney Co., which has its headquarters in Burbank, California, has repeatedly denied rumors that it planned to build a theme park in North Texas. However, prosecutors said Lucas told potential investors he had a secret source who tipped him off about the theme park.
Prosecutors said the identity of Lucas' secret source varied depending on who he spoke to — and when. They said he identified the person as a childhood or lifelong friend in some versions of his story, but in other accounts described the individual as a friend of a friend.
When the FBI questioned Lucas about the source in 2013, he gave agents the name of a dead man, prosecutors said.
They said Lucas met the man, a Hurricane Katrina transplant with a drug habit who worked odd jobs before committing suicide in 2012, at a North Texas methadone rehab clinic where the two were receiving treatment.
Defense attorneys argued the investors were greedy and used Lucas as a scapegoat for their bad deals. His father, who was the only defense witness called to testify, said his son had his own money in the deals.
In a statement, Lucas' uncle Harry "Beau" Lucas said the land parcels his nephew sold "are superior long-term investments." He said, however, that he and his family understand the investors' anger because his nephew "manipulated relatives and associates in his own family's company."