Legal Opinion on River Property Scandal

REGION 8 -- We've showed you several different property owners along the Spring River who say they've been scammed. Now, we have yet another couple who has a similar story. But as this story continues to develop, we wanted to know where these property owners stand legally and just what their rights are as they lose property after property in this scandal.

Billy and Pat Mann of Lake City are stuck in the same predicament as many others. They bought hunting prorerty in Cherokee Village in 1995 and financed through the Spring River Beach Club for ten years. In October of 2005, they paid off the property and thought it was theirs.

"You wait till the day you get it paid for and then when you get it paid for, you find out that you've been paying for land that you never owned," says Billy Mann.

For close to a year, they battled with the beach club to simply receive the warranty deed to the property they had paid off. They finally got it in the mail, stamped and certified, but quickly realized it was too late.

"Finally, the warranty deed was sent. About a week later, we received notification that we didn't own the land, that Regions Bank did," says Pat Mann.

After doing some research, they discovered that Wayne Watkins, the owner of Spring River Beach Club, had taken a second mortgage out on their property, failed to make the payments, and therefore, the land was foreclosed by the bank. They say they felt they were losing something they had done everything to make their own.

"Our first thought was it's impossible. It's ours. We paid for it, bought it and we had a contract. There was no reason for us to think that we didn't own the land," says Pat Mann.

Since the bank foreclosed on their property and several others, they had already auctioned it off and sold it to new owners. They tried to legally convince a judge they owned the property, but since the new owners warranty deed was filed before theirs was, they realized they were at a loss.

We spoke with local Attorney Scott Emerson to see just where they, and all the other property owners that have lost their land could stand legally.

"If they've been paying for property that their contracts say that upon completion of their payments, they're going to get an ownership interest in the property. If they haven't done that, then they have some rights to either get their money back or get paid damages in a court of law from Wayne Watkins or Spring River Beach Club," says Scott Emerson, a Jonesboro Attorney.

But the biggest problem there he says can be collectability in a civil suit. He says they still have other options.

"If you're defrauding people. If you're selling something that you don't own, then there's some potential criminal liability there both at the federal and at the state level, " says Emerson.

Unfortunately for these property owners like billy and pat mann, the criminal option may not get their land back or their money.

"The criminal law while it will punish Wayne Watkins if he's found may not give them personal satisfaction as far as getting their money back, " says Emerson.

As for the Manns', they say they're mostly just hoping for justice to be served and something or someone to stop this ongoing scandal.

"They fraud people. They're frauding people right now and they're going to continue to if the law doesn't do something about it," says Billy Mann.

So, Emerson says they do have rights and grounds to sue, the biggest question still remains however. If they do go to court, will Wayne Watkins be there to face his charges? We'll continue to keep investigating.