Federal charges were filed for one man after the FBI was forced to get involved in his false relocation scam centered around Disney’s “plans” to move to another state.
No, Disney Isn’t Moving
In Spring 2023, evening news programs and websites were teeming with stories and posts about the Walt Disney World Resort packing up and moving to another state in response to the escalating feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida lawmakers, and The Walt Disney Company. Millions of online users were searching terms associated with Disney World moving away from Florida.
North Carolina State Senator Michael Garrett filed a bill called “Mickey’s Freedom Restoration Act,” seeking $750,000 for the creation of a committee to determine how to attract The Walt Disney Company and its Central Florida theme Park Resort to the state of North Carolina.
Some said North Carolina is the perfect place for Disney World to relocate. Others said the best place for Disney World to move to is the state of Virginia. And some said there’s no way the Disney World Resort would/could be moved to another state.
But this isn’t the first time other states have invited Disney to relocate. In April 2022, similar sentiments in favor of Disney and opposed to Gov. Ron DeSantis were expressed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who tweeted an offer of asylum to Mickey and Minnie in the early weeks of the Disney vs. DeSantis war, extending an invitation for Disney to pack its bags and head to the Centennial State. Only days later, a judge in South Texas extended a warm and welcoming “howdy, y’all” to The , inviting the company to pack up, head west, and plant Disney roots deep in the heart of Texas.
This writer happens to think Texas is exactly the place for Disney World to move, though it’s hardly possible. But just a few years ago, one man made millions off his ability to make a similar proposition sound entirely feasible.
The Man Who Fooled Many
As the FBI put it, the man “was such an effective liar that he was able to convince hundreds of investors—even members of his own family—that he had inside information about a Disney Resort to be built in Texas.”
“Thomas Lucas, Jr. fooled savvy investors and very intelligent people,” said Special Agent Rick Velasquez, an investigator from the FBI’s Dallas Division who worked the case. “He was a very believable guy.”
For four years, beginning in 2006, Lucas scammed and defrauded more than 250 investors by claiming he had inside information about The Walt Disney Company’s plans to build a brand-new resort theme park like the Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, in a rural area 50 miles north of Dallas, Texas. He offered potential investors a chance to strike it rich before Disney arrived in North Texas by giving them purchase options to buy land near where the new Resort would soon be located.
According to the FBI, “the 65 investors who purchased options lost every cent they invested—more than $8 million. Some investors, including Lucas’ father and uncle in the family real estate business, purchased land outright, believing the Disney story.”
“There was not one grain of truth in Lucas’ presentations,” Special Agent Velasquez said, “but his pitch was very elaborate, and it fooled a lot of people. He duped his own family.”
“Lucas claimed to have letters between Disney and a management firm saying that the company had acquired enough land to make the deal happen. He included the letters—complete with forged Disney officials’ signatures—in his presentations to investors, along with detailed maps, concept plans, and images that were later discovered to be lifted from the internet, some from Disney websites.
According to Lucas, Disney planned to make the big announcement about the Resort at a Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving in 2006. When that didn’t happen, he told investors there were delays. “Then the announcement was going to be Super Bowl 2007, 2008. Then it was Fourth of July at the Beijing Olympic games,” Velasquez said. “He was just trying to keep investors and potential investors on the hook.”
Lucas kept up the scheme for more than four years. However, investors became suspicious as “delays” in Disney’s plans kept the supposed project from coming to fruition. Finally, one of the investigators filed a complaint with the FBI.
In 2014, Lucas was indicted by a federal grand jury. He was charged with seven counts of wire fraud and one count of lying to the FBI, and in September 2015, following a jury trial, the 35-year-old Lucas was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.
“That was a stiff sentence for a white-collar crime,” Velasquez noted, “but he defrauded a lot of people and showed no remorse.”
Would you have fallen into this Disney relocation trap if Lucas approached you? Let us know in the comments.