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Ark. developer accused of theft arrested in Texas

by Associated Press | February 21, 2011 at 11:03 p.m.

— A developer accused of defrauding buyers of property at a subdivision in Arkansas was arrested Monday at the Houston airport as he returned from Mexico, where he has lived for four years, the Sharp County, Ark., sheriff said.

Wayne Watkins, 63, was arrested by Harris County, Texas, deputies on a 2007 warrant from Sharp County charging him with theft by deception, Sheriff Mark Counts told The Batesville Daily Guard.

Watkins waived extradition in a hearing before a judge, the sheriff said, and arrangements are being made to transport him back to Sharp County.

Larry Kissee, Watkins’ lawyer, said Watkins was returning to see his seriously ill father, and knew he would be arrested on the 2007 warrant.

“We’ve been negotiating with the prosecutor for several weeks trying to arrange it so he could drive up here and give himself up,” Kissee said.

But Kissee said Watkins apparently felt he was running out of time to see his father as the negotiations went on and simply boarded a plane Monday.

Watkins’ lawyer said the developer’s mother was living in Mexico when she became seriously ill in 2007, and Watkins went to see her “and just didn’t come back.” His mother has since died, Kissee said.

Authorities say Watkins collected down payments from people who bought lots in the Spring River Beach Club in Hardy. Buyers’ contracts allowed Watkins to automatically withdraw monthly payments from their bank accounts, officials said at the time he was charged.

Watkins used the land as collateral to take out $2.6 million in loans, then defaulted on the loans and the land was seized, authorities say. Officials said Watkins and the money disappeared, along with any legal claim the buyers had to the land.

Officials say more than 50 buyers, most from out of state, have contacted the Arkansas attorney general’s office over the past four years to file complaints against Watkins. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel sued Watkins and his business associates in 2008, claiming they had violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

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