U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Fraudster to Stay in Prison for Fake Disneyland Scam

Thomas W. Lucas Jr. presented a grand vision to investors. It would be big, of course, because this was Texas.

"Frontier Disney DFW," he called it, complete with theme parks, a water park, a new airport, a train, hotels, villas, sports facilities, and a shopping mall. He showed them elaborate park maps, floor plans, and mock-ups of the facilities.

Lucas raised more than $60 million from investors to buy land around the Disney park, and then the truth came out. It was all a lie.

A Fantasy Land Scam

Lucas was convicted on wire fraud and related counts, sentenced to 17 years in prison with orders to pay $8.5 million in restitution. He appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the court could well have said he was dreaming.

"Given the overwhelming quantum of evidence used to convict, any error did not affect Lucas's substantial rights ..." said a unanimous panel of the court in affirming the conviction.

Lucas argued that new evidence showed his dead uncle was responsible for nearly $1 million in missing funds; the prosecutor wrongly produced a document showing Lucas went to a methadone clinic; the government's witness was not qualified to testify about terrorist's email techniques.

The problem was that Lucas had been scamming from the beginning.

A Tip from the Methadone Clinic

Originally, Lucas told investors he got a tip from a "lifelong friend" about a Disney plan to build a theme park in north Texas. He later said the man's name was Michael Watson.

By that time, however, Watson was dead. Lucas had met him at a methadone clinic -- before he committed suicide.

But Watson had no more information about a new Disney park than Mickey Mouse. Disney officials testified at trial that the company never even thought about building a park in Texas.

Of course, Lucas knew that already. He had created fake letters from Disney officials, including a memo from Disney CEO Bob Iger setting the announcement for October 1, 2008.

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