Local News

Federal Investigators Look Into Parton Theater Deal

Posted February 11, 2008 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2008 8:29 p.m. EST

— 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.