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“Plans” for a new Disney theme park Resort in North Texas led to federal fraud charges, millions lost, and jail time

A man in North Texas duped investors into pouring millions of dollars into land purchases in two counties north of the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. His pitch? He had an inside track with Disney and secret knowledge about Disney‘s plans to branch out into the Lone Star State and build its first theme park Resort in the South.

frontier disney dallas fort worth

Credit: Canva Creation

Thomas W. Lucas, Jr. must have gotten his mad skills as a salesman from his family. Perhaps it was in his genes. It’s completely plausible; after all, Lucas’s relatives made up a prominent real estate family in the Dallas, Texas area.

Lucas pitch his story to would-be investors, telling them that he had inside information, thanks to a secret source who tipped him off about Disney‘s plans to develop a Walt Disney theme park Resort in North Texas. But Lucas never would identify his so-called “Disney insider,” even while under oath during questioning in court.

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Credit: The Daily Mail

Eventually, after the FBI got involved, Lucas finally told authorities the name of his Disney informant: Michael Watson, Sr.

But the name was just another part of Lucas’s deceptive practices; it was the name of a man who was deceased. Federal authorities said that the man Lucas named was a transplant from Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Lucas had met him in a drug rehab facility where both men were being treated.

Lucas fabricated the story about Disney‘s plans in the Lone Star State in an effort to dupe investors into pouring millions of dollars into land purchases in Collin County and Denton County in North Texas. What was in it for him? The commission from each of the land purchases.

Those potential investors who were tricked by Lucas’s lies say they paid inflated prices for land in the two Texas counties because they believed–per Lucas’s account–that the land would become prime real estate once Disney made its formal announcement about plans to develop a Disney theme park Resort in North Texas.

They overpaid for the land because they fully intended to flip the land to developers and make a sizable return on their investments. But there would be no such return, and the only one to profit was Thomas Lucas.

According to investors who bought up land in the two North Texas counties, Lucas was elaborate in his plans to deceive them. He produced dummy artist sketches–some forged and some fake, as well as maps of the area, site plans, and other “formal” documents. He even gave them the name of Disney‘s new North Texas-based theme park Resort: “Frontier Disney Dallas-Fort Worth.”

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Credit: The Dallas Morning News

It was all very believable.

But announcements from The Walt Disney Company never materialized, though rumors of Mickey taking up residence in the Lone Star State have circulated since the early 2000s. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking. Perhaps it’s the practice of speaking things into being.

Either way, a North Texas Disney Resort has yet to appear in The Walt Disney Company‘s crystal ball.

Thomas Lucas was the first person to face trial on charges of attempting to make financial gains from those rumors. He was indicted and charged with seven counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to the FBI about the scam he undertook.

According to prosecutors, over a period of four years, Lucas was able to defraud more than 50 different investors out of close to $14 million. He defrauded a former plastic surgeon in Dallas, attorneys in Dallas, a wealthy Chinese man in Hong Kong, and others across the United States.

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Credit: Google

Bill Thomas, a man living in the North Dallas area, said he made an investment of more than $1 million. Thomas says it was the appearance of the documents that fooled him, saying that they looked official. He further said that he believed that others were involved in the scam, as the “plans” he was shown were sophisticated digital architectural plans, and Lucas more than likely had help in creating them.

“They certainly sucked me in,” Thomas said.

Thomas Lucas and his uncle Harry “Beau” Thomas held presentations for potential investors. During the presentations, no cellphones were allowed. According to court filings, the presentations included a slide show of sketches and diagrams of the new North Texas-based Disney theme park Resort.

Investors were also shown correspondence that was forged. The correspondence supposedly took place between high-end retailers and Disney as there was talk of opening stores in a district called “The Shops at Disney.” There was even fabricated written communication between Southwest Airlines and The Walt Disney Company that note Southwest’s intentions to service the “Frontier Disney Airport,” according to court documents.

Lucas made his pitches, saying that Disney‘s formal announcement about the new Disney theme park in the Lone Star State was “imminent.”

According to The Dallas Morning News, Lucas’s pitch was detailed and even included a fake prospectus:

“The pitch was that investors had to begin buying land near the theme park before the announcement. The announcement would boost the value of their land, which they could then sell to developers at a big profit.

“‘This will not make history but simply repeat it,’ said a prospectus that Thomas Lucas showed to investors. ‘In order to see what property values do when Disney comes to town, we only need to look to Disney World in Orlando. We have positioned ourselves for a great opportunity by placing under contract over $200 million of property,’ most of which was ‘next to the front entrance or shares a border with the park.'”

In one instance, an investor who believed Thomas Lucas’s claims purchased 100 acres of land in Denton County for $6.3 million.

frontier disney dallas fort worth

Credit: Canva Creation

According to court documents, Lucas gave the following information about the all-new Frontier Disney Dallas-Fort Worth theme park Resort:

Overview: Six theme parks, a lake, and a tram system near the future Dallas North Tollway extension along the Denton-Collin county line.

Credit: Disney

 Phase 1: Condos, high-end shops, PGA golf courses, a water park, and the Frontier Disney Airport.

Phases 2-4: A Texas version of EPCOT, a TV-movie studio complex, a sports complex, and an animal park

Projected jobs: 50,000 to 75,000 jobs created

Development costs: Projected to be $192 million for residential and $600 million for commercial

Hotels: A proposed high-rise hotel near the Dallas North Tollway that promised “spectacular views of the park from its upper floors.

thomas w. lucas frontier disney

Credit: The Daily Mail

Thomas W. Lucas, Jr. was found guilty on all seven counts of wire fraud and guilty on the one count of making false statements to the FBI. He was sentenced in court to 17 1/2 years in prison and ordered to pay $8.4 million in restitution.

About Becky Burkett

I'm an enthusiastic writer who finds joy in random things like cold weather, snow, "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," journals full of blank paper, countdowns to Christmas, the month of December, "Toy Story," "Sleeping Beauty," my 4 kids, my 4 shih tsus, Disney Parks history, Imagineering and visiting the parks. I think Walt Disney is the standard against which genius should be measured. I love to write about Disney Parks, Disney history, all things Imagineering and PIXAR. I adore the colors, story and art direction of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" (Team Make it Blue!), and "Toy Story" is life (minus "Toy Story 4"). I believe Walt Disney was so much more than an entertainment and theme park tycoon; I believe he was a savant with a vision for life and how it could be if happiness and kindness are strived for. I love Biergarten at EPCOT and 1900 Park Fare at Disney's Grand Floridian. You can find me croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room, chillin' on the PeopleMover or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. I'm always looking for Imagineers in the parks, and I'd rather meet Joe Rohde and Tony Baxter than anyone in Hollywood! Hey, if you dream it, you really can do it!