Orlando Music Festival Coordinator Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

Orlando music festival organizer sentenced to prison
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Orlando music festival organizer sentenced to prison
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Photo Credit: Aditya Vyas

The coordinator of what would have been the Orlando Music Festival has pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

James Walker Watson Jr., the executive producer of the planned Orlando Music Festival, was arrested in Orlando in May 2022 after a federal grand jury in Dallas indicted him for his involvement in the Southfork Music Festival near Dallas from 2018 to 2020. As the executive producer of that festival, prosecutors claim Watson defrauded investors out of more than $3 million.

Watson pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud in May 2023 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Thursday (June 20). “Instead of using the funds for concert expenses, Watson made large cash withdrawals,” said prosecutors.

“The US Attorney’s Office will continue to bring charges against and prosecute those who commit fraud and steal money from victims in our district,” said US 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 US Attorney’s Office to bring this defendant to justice.”

Notably, this isn’t the first time Watson has been arrested for fraud. Court records show a conviction in 2002 for federal bank fraud for activities surrounding the Sacramento Jazz Festival. There, he was accused of kiting checks for over $300,000 written by his mother. He was then indicted on more bank fraud charges in Houston in 2011, while still on probation.

According to federal prosecutors, Watson took over $2.5 million from investors while producing the Texas Music Festival, including a 92-year-old woman and her 72-year-old daughter. Watson served more than five years in prison as a result of the Sacramento and Houston court cases.

Watson’s Orlando Music Festival was scheduled for the July 4th weekend of 2022, featuring acts like Brian Culbertson, David Sanborn, Euge Groove, The Jacksons, and more. To date, ticket holders have not been issued refunds; US District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III, announced restitution to victims will be determined at a separate hearing.