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Despite negotiations, developer still on loose

Land-deal fugitive in Mexico, officials say by Amy Upshaw | March 7, 2010 at 4:24 a.m. | Updated February 21, 2011 at 11:07 p.m.

— Fugitive developer Wayne Watkins remains free more than three months after his attorney said he was trying to work out a deal with lawenforcement officials for his client to return to Sharp County and face a felonytheft charge.

“There hasn’t been anyprogress on [the deal],” Sharp County Sheriff ’s Sgt. Mark Counts said last week.

Asked whether he thought it is still possiblethat Watkins, who is believed to be in Mazatlan, Mexico, would return to Hardy, Counts responded, “I hope.”

The sheriff ’s office has had an unserved warrant for Watkins’ arrest on one count of felony theft of property for more than three years.

The attorney general also has filed suit against Watkins and three of his business partners, accusing them of “unconscionable” behavior that violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

The warrant stems from a complaint filed by Lake City residents Pat and Billy Mann, who claim Watkins swindled them out of thousands of dollars.

“I think probably I can speak for everybody who got beat out of their land by him,” Pat Mann said. “Everybody wants to see him pay for what he did.”

Watkins spent more than two decades developing family and camping resorts along the Spring River. He sold hundreds of parcels ofland, mostly to out-of-towners.

In 1995, Billy Mann and his brother-in-law signed a contract with Watkins to buy hunting land in CherokeeVillage for $10,000 using an installment land contract.

Such contracts allow the buyer to pay monthly installments, usually to the seller, without seeking a mortgage. The seller keeps the deed until the land is paid off.

Ten years later, Mann and his brother-in-law made their last payment to Watkins for the property. It took the family 10 months to get the deed to the property from Watkins, and they filed it at the Sharp County Courthouse.

The Manns didn’t know that Watkins had used their land as collateral for a loanin 2002. When he failed to repay that loan, Regions Bank foreclosed on the property in May 2006 and sold it to someone else. That deed had been recorded before the Manns got their document.

The Manns were among an unknown number of buyers who lost their money and the land they thought they were buying when Watkins defaulted on $2.6 million inloans, which he obtained by using the land he was selling as collateral.

In November, Watkins’ attorney, Larry Kissee, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he was negotiating a deal with Counts. At the time, Kissee said he hoped Watkins could post bond in Sharp County “in the very near future.”

Kissee, reached last week, said there are no new developments in terms of a deal to get Watkins home.

“Everything is basically where it stood before,” the attorney said. “We always hoped we could get him to come back and get all this straightened up. That’s what his family is shooting for.”

Arkansas, Pages 15 on 03/07/2010

Print Headline: Despite negotiations, developer still on loose

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