|The Rest of the Story?
Many questions remain unanswered on big deal that fell apart
|Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor|
Feb. 26, 2006 -- A plan to develop an Internet television production studio just east of Sulphur Springs died on Feb. 6 when the purchase of the Mary Bonham home was not completed.
But many questions are still unanswered.
On Dec. 18, Joy Walker, also known as Almond Joy Walker, told city and county leaders and members of the news media that her project would begin to take shape in early February and that a large number of jobs would become available immediately.
"We are going to start with bare minimums -- 1,500 people full time," she said. Included in the 1,500 jobs, Walker said, would be sound people, lighting people, and crews to build sets.
Within another 90 days, Walker said the number would grow to a staggering 4,500 or more.
Mary Bonham, who says she is vitally interested in Sulphur Springs’ economic growth, first saw the remote possibility of the plan having a major impact on both the city and Hopkins County.
The influx of 4,000 people and their families meant the population could more than double, and that was cause for some concern for local government and school officials.
For the school districts, there was the prospect of overcrowded classrooms. For local governments, the infrastructure -- utilities, communications or Internet -- was not in place to support an effort of such scope.
These were only the start of a myriad of questions about the plan and its feasibility.
The cost of constructing a building 800 feet long and 180 feet wide, equipping the building for television production and paying salaries of 1,500 to 4,000 people would be enormous. Where would the money come from?
Almond Joy Walker said she had the money. Her son, Joseph, and attorney, Terry Taylor of Colleyville, were adamant there was financial backing for the venture.
When asked about Walker's other ventures, Taylor said he could not offer a lot of help, that he had only been representing her since June 2005.
"Most of that time was working in another area of her company. She does a lot of philanthropic work," the attorney said. He would not, however, reveal any specific information on those ventures.
As for specific accomplishments, Taylor had no information.
"The things that I have been working on with her are things she is intending to do," he said. "Quite frankly, because her time is so limited, I haven't had time to ask her about past things."
Joseph Walker said he and his mother had done many things but wouldn't offer specifics. The information, however, would be provided early in January, he said.
"When we come back -- we are planning on being back there in two weeks -- we will be bringing a packet with all the advice that anybody would really want," he told the News-Telegram.
The information packets never materialized.
Requests for more information and interviews by the News-Telegram, KSST and Dallas Morning News were all stonewalled.
Mrs. Walker did meet with Washington Times writer Hugh Aynesworth in early February to discuss the planned studio.
"She said she was going to accomplish many things that Bill Gates could not do," Aynesworth said.
But some things just didn't add up.
An official in the video production department at Southern Methodist University said the only people in Florida capable of such a large operation would have "Disney" attached to their names.
The owner of a television production studio in North Dallas said the Spanish-language network, Telemundo, had just completed full production of a year’s worth of soap operas in their 150-foot long studio with a maximum of just more than 100 people.
City, school and county officials had questions about the financial capabilities of Mrs. Walker and her company. Those questions, too, went unanswered.
An investigation into the background of Almond Joy Walker would reveal some discrepancies and lead to even more questions.
Two months prior to her appearance in Sulphur Springs, Almond Joy Walker was evicted from a rented house in Oakland Park, Fla., on Oct. 5, 2005, by owner Pamela J. O'Connor.
"She owes me quite a bit of money," O'Connor said. "She rented a place from me. She moved in June, I believe, and my daughter finally got her evicted in October. She paid one month's worth of rent, and she and her son moved in, and there was little or no furniture, like bags and boxes of clothing -- they had a computer, but not much of anything."
Documentation of at least three other civil suits further dimmed the financial potential for an Internet television studio in Sulphur Springs.
Attorney Terry Taylor, who said he represented Mrs. Walker in the purchase of the Mary Bonham property and later said he was employed to manage the television production facility, said he was unaware of any financial difficulties involving Walker.
"This is news to me," Taylor said during a telephone conversation last week.
In the weeks leading up to the planned closing date for the sale of the Bonham home, Mary Bonham continued to be optimistic, hoping the deal would work for the benefit of Sulphur Springs.
Between the initial announcement and the projected closing date for the property sale, Mary Bonham said, Mrs. Walker and her son were allowed to live in a guest house on the property and were permitted to use one of the Bonham automobiles.
But as the date for the sale finalization drew near, the deal began to fall apart.
At the closing on Feb. 4, Walker’s attorney asked for additional time -- two more weeks -- before closing on the transaction in order to explore what he termed “information that was given to us” about structural problems with the property.
Bonham’s attorney suggested a slightly shorter extension might be acceptable if another $20,000 in non-refundable earnest money was paid.
Previous earnest money was paid into escrow for the pending sale -- $20,000 for a $15.5 million transaction -- was paid by Taylor, and he apparently did not want to put in any additional money, and Mary Bonham rejected the request for additional time.
“Basically, she said, ‘No’ and to get off her property,” Taylor told the News-Telegram on Feb. 6. “All we wanted was additional time to check out this information.”
When asked if there were problems in getting the $15.5 million for the property, the attorney said there were not, that he stopped a transfer of funds.
“Joy was going to put the funds in escrow, and I stopped her,” he said. “I asked her to go get a certified check instead, because I wanted to demonstrate, when I went into the [closing] meeting, that we had the funds, because I knew there was such a question about it. [Joy] was unable to get that certified check.”
For Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County, hope for a place in the television spotlight has gone away. In its place are still more questions.
Taylor said the group was still intent on building their studio somewhere, but that Sulphur Springs was both out of the question and in the past. He said they would look elsewhere, maybe "west of Fort Worth."
For Mary Bonham, there was only disappointment that the economic boost for Sulphur Springs would never happen.
That, and disappointment in people she said she had tried to befriend.
"Was this a scam? A misguided venture? Or did Joy Walker really think she could pull off a business monster?" News-Telegram Publisher Scott Keys wrote in Feb. 8. editorial. "Only Mrs. Walker and her 'partners' in the venture know for sure.”