SHERMAN, Tex. – The executive producer of what would have been the Orlando Music Festival has been 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 a federal grand jury in the Dallas area indicted him.

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 that festival’s executive producer, prosecutors claim Watson defrauded investors out of at least $3 million.

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

Walker pleaded guilty in May 2023.

On Thursday, a federal judge in Texas sentenced the 68-year-old to 240 months in prison.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to bring charges against and prosecute those who commit fraud and steal money from victims in our district,” said U. S. Attorney Damien M. Diggs. “These crimes often take advantage of individuals who trust the defendants with their hard-earned savings and investments, only to lose them forever. We appreciate the work of the FBI in investigating and partnering with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring this defendant to justice.”

Watson’s Past

A News 6 investigation revealed this was not the first time Watson had been arrested for fraud.

Watch News 6′s original investigation into Watson

In 2002, court records showed he was convicted of federal bank fraud charges for activities surrounding the Sacramento Jazz Festival, where he was accused of kiting 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 not authorized, according to Investopedia. For instance, issuing or altering a check to take more money out of an account than authorized.

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

Federal prosecutors claimed Watson bilked investors out of $2.5 million while producing the Texas Music Festival. Those 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 have not recovered from the failed investment they made 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 roped us in completely,” she said. “Then, I realized what was happening, and I felt uneasy. I realized we were in too deep.”

Federal court documents from 2007 show Howell took out a loan using a farm that had been in her 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 as a result of both the Sacramento and Houston court cases.

Orlando Music Festival

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

“I have a track record of being a successful producer,” he told News 6. “I’ve had two stumbling blocks out of 36 music festivals. I said I’ve learned my lesson, so I’m finished with it. So, I’m moving on. There’s no record since then. I have no problems with anything that I’ve done.”

His Orlando Music Festival was set for July 4th weekend of 2022, featuring acts, 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 to several families who had not only purchased tickets for the event but also bought airfare and paid for hotel rooms in Orlando.

Watch: Ticket holders are still waiting for refunds

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

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

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