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Federal Investigators Look Into Parton Theater Deal

Posted February 11, 2008

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— Federal investigators who handled the political corruption investigation of former state House Speaker Jim Black are looking into the  taxpayer-funded deal that brought Randy Parton to Roanoke Rapids.

FBI agents spoke to the country singer's attorney on Friday, said Rick Watson, who played a key role in Parton's failed music venture in Halifax County.

"I'm really glad to see the special grand jury get involved because they'll get to the truth of the matters," Watson said Monday in an interview with WRAL.

Watson was an industry recruiter for the nonprofit Northeast Partnership and orchestrated the deal for Roanoke Rapids to build a $21.5 million music theater that Parton would headline and manage. The Randy Parton Theatre was to be the centerpiece of an entertainment complex off Interstate 95 that officials hoped would become a tourist magnet and boost the regional economy.

"I think it was the right thing to do. I think it's a wonderful project," Watson said.

Once the groundwork was set, he left his economic development job to become Parton's business partner. A state audit of his actions determined the move presented a conflict of interest, but Watson deflected the charge.

"I never had any interest in Randy's company while I was at the Northeast Partnership," he said.

Watson said he had every intention of making money with Parton through promotion, performances and land deals, but the two split over business disagreements before the first show.

"The last two years, I'm probably down over $200,000 of my personal money," he said.

Parton also has left the venture. Roanoke Rapids barred him from performing, stripped him of his management duties and even took his name off the theater after financial records revealed more than $1 million in losses last summer and questionable spending.

Watson said he believes Parton was unfairly attacked for using part of a $3 million reserve fund – taxpayers supplied the fund as part of the theater deal – on trips and alcohol.

"I don't think there was anything illegal," he said.

Watson said federal authorities have not contacted him in the Parton case. He has worked with the FBI agents before, testifying before a federal grand jury about Black's relationship with the Northeast Partnership.

Watson also is working on another entertainment venture with the Parton family, but he declined to provide specifics, other than to say it would be entirely privately funded.

"Rick Watson will stay a full arm's length from government," he said with a laugh.


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  • iamforjustice Feb 13, 2008

    Well you apparently don't know who those artists are. They have sold out in every venue they have been to. I take it you don't like R&B or Rap or Blues or Jazz. That is cool and your choice. What you don't like a million love.

  • gandalf1 Feb 12, 2008

    Yea I am sure an R&B singer or a rap singer would sell the place out. Not!!! Once again you enlighten with another gem of wisdom from the idiot gallery.

  • iamforjustice Feb 12, 2008

    Robin Thicke would definitely bring in a lot of ticket sales.

  • iamforjustice Feb 12, 2008

    Whose idea was it to get Randy Parton anyway. Is this his first business venture of this magnitude? Would have been simple to nix this dumb idea and get a House of Blues. No major events scheduled that is worth seeing anyway. Now if Missy Elliot or Keisha Coles or Lupe Fiasco appears then I guarantee you ticket sales soar.

  • shine Feb 12, 2008

    If Watson didn't have any personal interest in the Randy Parton theater - then why did he leave N. E. Partnership? If he invested $200,000 of his own money in two years, and he and Parton had a dispute..... why did he leave without attempting to collect his personal venture? If he left for a personal dispute between he and Parton - then how does the relationship work now that he is doing another venture with the Parton family at "arms length from goverment?....... according to the article.

    The $200,000 was not his money..... His salary is posted.

    I bet he DOES want to get arms length from the Goverment.

  • willis2 Feb 12, 2008

    "I don't think there was anything illegal," Wow, what a relief. That $200 grand must have bought a lot of take-out. Perhaps the IRS can help Watson get it back. Sounds like some auditors are going to have late nights trying to sort out this mess.

  • skidkid269 Feb 12, 2008

    This sounded to me like a cluster to begin with. I understand wanting to make another "Branson", but who came up with Randy Parton as a headliner?! There were a couple of decent concerts out there, but who really wants to pay to see Dolly Parton's brother? It would've been better to get a "has-been" country artist than a "never-was" artist. This will either get interesting, or end up like a reality show.

  • shine Feb 12, 2008

    Thinkaboutit: You know the deal!!! One of the Scotts is back at N.E. now after a leave.... not answering a phone and helping her designated other at the theater - until the curtain fell.
    Greed and "Starstruck" were the issues here no doubt... When Watson left there were articles that came out locally that read the news on his "bonuses" along with others. They were quickly extinquished - and he left for "personal" reasons. I hope they continue to investigate.

  • Doctor Dataclerk Feb 12, 2008

    Just like Black, Frank Ballance, Gaery Ballance, etc., North Carolina does nothing and the Federal investigators have to step in. Like Shine said Slick Watson had the most to do with brokering this deal. Watson says now he welcomes the investigation.....RIGHT, so you can explain why taxpayer money was used to pay your son's apartment rent. I'm sure the Scott's are real excited about this too. When there is bountiful amounts of taxpayer's money in a pot, greed always sets in.

  • shine Feb 12, 2008

    Watson was alot more involved in this than he is attesting to. He didn't leave N.E. Partnership - he had to because of the conflict of interest and an investigation in kickbacks from a non-profit. They threw it under the rug for a while...... after he left but if they investigate...... there is a whole lot more water boiling on the stove than this article presents. It doesn't have as much to do with "Roanoke Rapids" as the way the deal was done.... The two that wrote the grant/SBA/Gold Leaf/ who knows just yet. Alot of kickbacks in this deal and the ones that that had the "pot of gold" at the end of the rainbow involved ended up losing people at the N.E. Partnership because of "their" personal involvement. It will be interesting if they conduct an actual investigation or they try and sweep it under the rug one more time.