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Etheredge found guilty in securities fraud trial

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010, at 2:41 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at 1:48 p.m.

WICHITA — Thomas Etheredge, founder of the failed Wild West World theme park, today was found guilty by a jury on seven of nine counts of securities fraud in Sedgwick County District Court.

The jury's decision, after nearly two days of deliberation, was the latest chapter in the saga of Etheredge and the theme park, which remained open for only two months before closing and going bankrupt in July 2007.

Etheredge, 55, had been charged with inducing investors to give him a total of $735,000 for the park by either providing false or incomplete information about his past.

Etheredge was found not guilty on two of the counts. Those counts involved $150,000 he received from Marvin Whitson, his wife's uncle, and $10,000 from Pat Bullock, an associate pastor at Summit church.

Sentencing has been set for March 12. He could face up to 14 years in prison, according to Steve Joseph, his defense attorney.

The defense maintained Etheredge provided enough information about his criminal past — largely through the book, "Real Men, Real Faith" — that investors should have been prompted to dig deeper if they really wanted to know more. He had been convicted of nine counts of securities fraud in Kansas in 1987.

But the prosecution claimed that same book led investors into a false sense of trust in Etheredge because he claimed to have a religious conversion during his time in prison. Etheredge and most of the investors, including two pastors, were part of Summit Church.

Etheredge has said he had budgeted correctly for the $24 million park but that poor weather and construction cost overruns led to Wild West World's demise.

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