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Bail set, fought; returnee not free

Developer stays jailed in theft case by C.S. Murphy | February 25, 2011 at 4:56 a.m.

— A district judge set bail for developer Wayne Watkins at $106,910.20 Thursday, but Watkins will remain in the Sharp County jail at least through the weekend pending a circuit court hearing scheduled for Monday.

Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce filed a motion Thursday afternoon to increase the bail on Watkins, who returned to Ash Flat late Wednesday in sheriff’s custody after he was arrested on a 2007 theft-by deception warrant.

Watkins’ attorney, Larry Kissee, planned to file a petition this morning to hold Sharp County Sheriff Mark Counts in contempt for refusing to accept a court bond equal to 10 percent of the bail amount.

“His family rounded up $10,691, and the sheriff kept us waiting for an hour while he decided what to do,” Kissee said.

In addition to the Class B felony charge, the 62-year old Watkins faces a lawsuit filed by Arkansas’ attorney general. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed the suit against the developer and three of his business partners in 2008 accusing them of “unconscionable” behavior that violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Watkins was arrested Monday when he re-entered the country by landing in Houston after spending four years in Mexico.

Counts on Thursday labeled Watkins a “major flight risk” and said he declined to accept the court bond after being advised by attorneys with the Arkansas Association of Counties.

Counts, who took office in January, said he turned to the association because Kissee is the Sharp County attorney in addition to representing Watkins.

As it stands, Watkins’ only ticket out of jail is to secure a professional surety bond, which would require a deposit paid to a traditional bail bondsman of 90 percent of the bail amount.

District Judge Mark Johnson set bail for Watkins at a Thursday morning pretrial hearing in Ash Flat. Prosecutors first asked the judge to withhold bail altogether and then asked bail to be set at $2.5 million.

“They asked the judge to not even give him a bond,” Kissee said. “The only thing you can’t have a bond on is capital murder. They yelled and screamed that he’s going to flee to Mexico.”

In his motion to increase bail, Boyce made the case that it’s reasonable to expect that Watkins could return to Mexico.

“The defendant no longer has ties to this county or state and has demonstrated both his ability and willingness to flee this jurisdiction to avoid prosecution in this matter.”

Kissee counters that Watkins never fled the country.

“He left and went to Florida in April 2007 because his mother was sick. She moved to Mexico, and then he moved down there to take care of her,” he said. Watkins’ mother died in Mexico in 2009.

Watkins returned because his father is gravely ill. Watkins also reportedly is in poor health, and Kissee was working to have Watkins examined by a doctor today.

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

An unknown number of buyers lost their money and their land after several banks foreclosed on Watkins when he defaulted on $2.6 million in loans he obtained by using the land as collateral.

Installment land 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.

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 02/25/2011

Print Headline: Bail set, fought; returnee not free

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