WICHITA — Summit Church pastor Terry Fox, testifying this morning in the securities fraud trial of Thomas Etheredge, said that Etheredge's reputation in the community as a good businessman was one reason he invested $50,000 in Wild West World.
Fox and his wife, Barbara, gave Etheredge a check for $20,000 in December 2006, then later an additional $30,000.
Fox told the jury that Etheredge told him he had two options for getting a return on his money: doubling it by taking the return at the end of the season, or leaving it in the theme park as an investment and receiving dividends based on how the park did.
"It sounded like a very good investment," Fox said. "I never had an offer like that. We also believed in the vision of the park, excited about what the park would bring to our community."
Chris Biggs, Kansas Securities Commissioner and one of the prosecutors, asked Fox whether the large return on his money "caused you to pause" about the investment. "At the time it did not," Fox said. "In hindsight, it does. If Tom said it would do that, we believed him.
"Bottom line is, I had total confidence in Tom."
Fox said he told Etheredge that he wanted to leave his $50,000 in the park as an investment.
In the end, it didn't matter. Wild West World stayed open only two months before closing and going bankrupt in July 2007.
Pat Bullock, an associate pastor at Summit Church, also took the stand today. He said he willingly invested $10,000 in the theme park.
David Harrah, an investor in the Bethany Trust, is also expected to testify today. The Bethany Trust was started by Etheredge in Pampa, Texas, in the 1980s and led to Etheredge being convicted on nine counts of securities fraud and serving three years in prison.