Orlando Music Festival producer arrested, charged with wire fraud

Federal prosecutors claim James Walker Watson, Jr., bilked Texas investors out of $3 million

ORLANDO, Fla. – The executive producer of what would have been the Orlando Music Festival’s first year has been arrested on a federal wire fraud charge.

According to court records, James Walker Watson, Jr., was arrested on May 31 in Orlando after a grand jury in Texas indicted him.

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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.

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

At a detention hearing at the federal courthouse in downtown Orlando on June 3, a federal magistrate ordered Watson held without bond until his trial in Texas after prosecutors claimed he threatened some of the witnesses.

“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.

At the time, Watson said he was looking forward to the inaugural year of his Orlando Music Festival, which was scheduled to feature acts such as Brian Culbertson, David Sanborn, Euge Groove, The Jacksons and more.

News 6 investigated and found out this was not the first time Watson has been arrested for fraud.

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 own mother.

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 served more than five years in prison as a result for both cases.

So why produce a music festival in Orlando?

“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.”

Watson’s company Music Festival Productions confirmed to News 6 the Orlando Music Festival has been canceled.

“Due to unforeseen circumstances the 2022 Orlando Music Festival has been canceled,” said John Griffin, MFP’s president. “Refunds for tickets will be issued shortly. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. Thank you for all the support.”

If convicted, Watson faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.