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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Watkins battle continues for many victims

Thursday, December 11, 2008

While some Wayne Watkins victims are finally seeing relief after years of fighting, others are just beginning the battle.

Some of the people Watkins scammed in the selling of Spring River parcels are being compensated by the Arkansas Real Estate Commission.

The victims of the recent Biggers Bluff Water Corporation are just now beginning the lawsuits and up-coming battle.

Watkins developed and sold land along Spring River for several years. He sold hundreds of parcels of land to locals, out-of-towners and retirees.

Watkins was selling land that he had put up as collateral for loans at the bank. After defaulting on the loans, the banks foreclosed on much of the land that people thought they had purchased from Watkins.

In June, the Attorney General sued Watkins and three of his business partners, Clifton Johnson, Virgil Griffin and Howard Baswell. The lawsuit accused them of "unconscionable behavior" and violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Watkins is also wanted on a Sharp County warrant for one count of felony theft of property, both class B felonies.

Several families have filed complaints with the Arkansas Real Estate Commission (AREC) in hopes of recovering some of their money. The AREC has a recovery fund that is made up of fees real estate agents pay each year for licensing. Each agent has a maximum amount of $75,000 that AREC will pay if they are found in the wrong.

Last month, the commission decided to repay one couple $11,495 for money they had paid Watkins for land he did not own.

Recently, Watkins has indirectly been the root of another group of people's problems. Johnson, a business associate of Watkins, has been blamed for scamming the people of Biggers Bluff.

Biggers Bluff is a small subdivision developed by Watkins.

While most of the property owners of Biggers Bluff got away with a clean deed to what they purchased, they have run into another kind of problem with the developer.

The property owners of Biggers Bluff received a bill of assurance when they purchased their property stating they would be provided with rural water. Watkins had set up an arrangement with the city of Hardy where he tapped into their water supply and would pay them water usage fees.

The property owners paid Johnson a yearly fee for water usage and in turn Johnson, as far as they knew, was paying Hardy. It wasn't until the water stopped flowing that residents learned Johnson had not made a regular payment to Hardy in two years.

After trying to work with Johnson to avoid usage interruption, Hardy Mayor Nina Thornton had the water to Biggers Bluff cut off Oct. 21. The amount owed to Hardy by Johnson is $21,700.

After the water was cut off, several families were left without a way to perform normal tasks like washing dishes, cooking and showering. Some had the means to dig a well right away but others had to wait weeks to find a way to come up with the money to dig.

On Nov. 20, a Sharp County warrant was issued for Johnson and he was arrested the same day. Johnson is being charged with theft of property and theft of services.

In the affidavits filed by the prosecuting attorney, it states that Johnson did, at one time, have enough money in the account used for Biggers Bluff Water Corporation to pay the city of Hardy but did not do so. The report also states that Johnson used the money for personal items and untraceable cash withdrawals.

Johnson's court date for his plea is set for Jan. 5. Biggers Bluff resident Sam Oakley said he is just glad Johnson is not getting away with what he has done. Oakley said he is not done with this, he will continue to pursue Johnson.

Oakley and his wife Sue went several weeks without water. According to Oakley they spent almost $13,000 to have a well dug. "We just want justice," Oakley said.

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