Local News

Recruiter in Parton theater deal gets federal subpoena

Posted July 10, 2008 11:23 a.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2008 6:57 p.m. EDT

— Rick Watson, an industry recruiter instrumental in helping bring what once was the Randy Parton Theatre to Roanoke Rapids has been served with a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury, his attorney said Thursday.

Watson, former president and chief executive officer of the Northeastern North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission, orchestrated the deal for Roanoke Rapids to build a $21.5 million music theater off Interstate 95 that was meant to boost the city's struggling economy.

The subpoena gives no indication why Watson must appear, his attorney, Wade Smith, said.

Once the groundwork was set on the theater project, Watson left his economic development job to become the business partner of the theater's namesake, country singer Randy Parton.

A state audit of Watson's actions determined the move presented a conflict of interest, but Watson deflected the charge in a February 2008 interview with WRAL News.

"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.

Last year, Roanoke Rapids stripped Parton of his management duties and slashed his salary after the theater failed to meet projected revenue and attendance numbers. Accusations that he misused funds and came to work intoxicated before a show led the city to cut ties with him.

Parton, Watson and several others were named in a lawsuit filed last month by the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, which alleges they lured the Roanoke Rapids into the troubled theater project

The complaint alleges they made false statements, withheld material facts, breached their fiduciary duties to taxpayers and ignored substantial conflicts of interest.

In a statement to WRAL News on Thursday, Parton's attorney, Nick Ellis, said his client denies anything improper when negotiating with the city about the theater.

"He and Roanoke Rapids reached a settlement concerning their contractual obligations, in which Roanoke Rapids paid Mr. Parton $750,000, and the parties completely released each other from all claims they had, including any claim relating to the theatre [sic]. As such, we do not believe there is any merit to this lawsuit."