Orlando Music Festival producer sentenced to 20 years in prison for fraud

SHERMAN, Texas. – The executive producer of what would have been the Orlando Music Festival was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal wire fraud charges.

James Walker Watson, Jr., was arrested in Orlando in May 2022 after his indictment by a Dallas-area federal grand jury.

According to the indictment, the charge stems from Watson's involvement in the Southfork Music Festival, which was held just outside of Dallas, between 2018 and 2020.

As executive producer of that festival, prosecutors say Watson defrauded investors of at least $3 million.

“Instead of using the funds to finance concert expenses, Watson made large cash withdrawals,” prosecutors said.

Walker pleaded guilty in May 2023.

On Thursday, a federal judge in Texas sentenced him to 240 months in prison.

Watson's past

A News 6 investigation revealed this isn't the first time Watson has been arrested for fraud.

Watch News 6's original investigation into Watson

In 2002, court records showed he was convicted of federal bank fraud for activities surrounding the Sacramento Jazz Festival, where he was accused of sending more than $300,000 in checks written by his mother . Kiting is the practice of using a financial instrument to obtain additional credit that is unauthorized, according to Investopedia. For example, writing or changing a check to withdraw more money from an account than allowed.

In 2011, while still on probation, he was indicted on additional bank fraud charges in Houston.

Federal prosecutors say Watson defrauded investors out of $2.5 million during the Texas Music Festival production. These investors included a 92-year-old woman and her 72-year-old daughter.

“He took everything we had,” said Marjorie Howell, who lives in Cape Canaveral.

Howell said she and her sister Joan Laskoskie still haven't recovered from the failure of their investment in Watson's Texas Music Festival.

“Financially, it’s tough,” Laskoskie told News 6 in 2022.

Watch: Investors say Watson used romance to raise money

Howell said she met Watson through a friend and the two began dating.

“I dated him for about six months until he completely cut us off,” she said. “Then I realized what was happening and I felt uncomfortable. I realized we were too committed.

Federal court documents from 2007 show Howell took out a loan using a farm that had been in his family for generations as collateral.

She and her sister gave the money to Watson.

Howell and Laskoskie said the family lost the farm and their retirement money – a total of more than $700,000.

Watson served more than five years in prison following the trials in Sacramento and Houston.

Orlando Music Festival

News 6 spoke to Watson before his arrest as he prepared for the Orlando Music Festival at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

“I'm used to being a successful producer,” he told News 6. “I've hit two stumbling blocks over 36 music festivals. I said I learned my lesson, so I'm done with her. So, I move on. There has been no recording since. I have no problem with anything I did.

Its Orlando Music Festival was scheduled for July 4 weekend, 2022, featuring artists such as Brian Culbertson, David Sanborn, Euge Groove, The Jacksons and more.

“The Orlando area needed a festival like this – not necessarily country, not necessarily rock, not necessarily R&B, but smooth jazz,” Watson told News 6 in April at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

News 6 spoke with several families who not only purchased tickets to the event, but also purchased plane tickets and paid for hotel rooms in Orlando.

Watch: Ticket holders still waiting for their refund

Alondra Churcher lives in Mesa, Arizona, and she said she paid more than $1,000 for her Diamond seat package, plane ticket, hotel and rental car, only to have the event canceled after Watson's arrest.

To date, no refunds have been made to ticket holders.

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