SHERMAN, Texas (AP) – A member of a Dallas-area real estate family is set to go on trial after being accused of faking a story about a Walt Disney theme park and resort coming to North Texas to trick people into investing millions of dollars in land while pocketing commissions from the sales.
The Dallas Morning News reports that the federal fraud trial for 40-year-old Thomas W. Lucas Jr. is set to begin Monday in Sherman, located about 65 miles north of Dallas. Lucas, who was indicted in 2013, is charged with seven counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to the FBI. The charges carry a penalty of up to 145 years in prison.
Investors say they overpaid for land in Collin and Denton counties that they were told was on the fringes of the future theme park. The investors planned to flip the land to developers at a profit when the Disney announcement was made. The investors said in court documents that Lucas showed them fake and forged artist sketches, maps, site plans and other documents related to “Frontier Disney Dallas-Fort Worth” to dupe them.
Numerous partnerships, joint ventures and limited liability companies were set up to begin acquiring land in the area.
Prosecutors say that from 2006 to 2010, Lucas defrauded more than 50 investors out of about $14 million.
Rumors of the attraction in Texas have circulated for more than a decade with The Dallas Morning News reporting in 2009 about the persistence of the rumors. This is the first time someone has faced trial on charges of trying to take advantage of the rumor.
The Walt Disney Co. has repeatedly denied plans to build a theme park in North Texas.
Howard Blackmon Jr., an attorney for Lucas, said Sunday that they’ll present their case and let a jury decide.
Lucas told potential investors he had a secret source who tipped him off about the theme park. Prosecutors say the identity of Lucas’ secret source varied depending on whom he spoke to and when. It could change from a childhood friend to a lifelong friend to someone he graduated from high school with, to a friend of a friend.
When the FBI questioned him about it in 2013, Lucas gave them the name of a dead man, a Hurricane Katrina transplant with a drug habit who worked odd jobs before committing suicide in 2012. Prosecutors say Lucas met him at a North Texas methadone rehab clinic where the two were receiving treatment.
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