A Texas man who swindled real estate investors with a story about a fake Disney theme park, like this one in Orlando, coming to Dallas was sentenced on Tuesday to 17-and-a-half years in federal prison.
Thomas Lucas Jr., 35, was convicted by a jury in February of seven federal counts of wire fraud and one count of lying to federal authorities.
Lucas told investors that a source in the Disney empire tipped him off that a new park was going to be built north of Dallas. He garnered more than $20 million from investors to buy land and took a near half million commission in sales commissions.
He told investors he would flip the land to Disney when they started buying up parcels in the Celina, Texas area when they got the project under way.
U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant said Lucas’ actions “caused a lot of damage to a lot of people,” and the judge doled out a punishment that was at the very top of the sentencing guideline range. He also ordered Lucas to pay $8.4 million in restitution.
“I see no remorse whatsoever,” Mazzant said.
Lucas said he was “heartbroken and ashamed” about how his actions hurt those he loves.
Prosecutors say that from 2006 to 2010, Lucas devised and executed an elaborate scheme to defraud approximately 280 investors out of approximately $20 million by telling them he had insider information regarding a Walt Disney resort and theme parks planned for the North Texas area.
Defense attorney Marlo Cadeddu said newly discovered evidence appeared to implicate her client’s recently-deceased uncle, and is seeking a new trial. Other evidence cast doubts on the credibility of one of the government’s witnesses, she said.
Prosecutors said Lucas profited from his lie about a “Frontier Disney DFW” theme park, forging official-looking Disney letters and altered maps and photographs that he claimed were given to him by his secret Disney source.
Lucas’s scheme to defraud solicited two types of investors – those that invested in options to purchase land supposedly near the Walt Disney property and those that actually purchased land supposedly near the Walt Disney property.
While information presented in Court showed tens of millions of dollars more were raised based on Lucas’s fraudulent Disney information, the value of the land purchased was subtracted to determine the overall loss amount of approximately $20 million. The 65 investors that invested in options to purchase land lost all of their money invested, which was slightly over $8 million, and received no interest in land.
According to Lucas, the Disney Resort and Theme Park was originally set to be called, “The King Ranch Project,” but that changed in 2007 to “Frontier Disney DFW,” both of which were completely fabricated.
Disney witnesses, including Disney’s then Chairman of Parks and Resorts and executive assistants, testified at the trial that the information presented to investors by Lucas was not authentic and that Disney never had any intentions of opening a Disney resort and theme park in north Texas at any time. Lucas pocketed approximately $450,000 from fees and commissions gleaned from the various land deals closed on his fraudulent Disney information.
When confronted by the FBI about the scheme, Lucas falsely blamed the Disney information on a man he had previously met at a methadone rehabilitation clinic, who is now deceased.
Reports say that much of the money lost was due to risky option contracts. Under those agreements, investors controlled the land for a fee but for only a short time period, such as 60 to 90 days. If they didn’t close on the due date or pay for an extension, they lost the money.