MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday accused an Alabama attorney of bilking millions of dollars from professional athletes and others who invested in his companies, saying he instead used the money on personal expenses.
The civil complaint filed in federal court in Atlanta says Donald V. Watkins and his companies falsely told investors that their funds would be used to support waste-to-energy ventures and that a prominent national company, Waste Management, was seriously interested in acquiring the businesses. A total of $6 million was raised from investors, many who were current and former pro football and basketball players.
"We allege that Watkins duped investors into believing that there was a lucrative transaction on the horizon, when in fact there was none," Walter Jospin, Regional Director of the SEC's Atlanta Regional Office, said in a statement.
The complaint alleges that Watkins instead spent the money on his girlfriend and on personal expenses like alimony, past due taxes and credit card bills
An attorney for Watkins called the complaint baseless and said it was retaliation for a lawsuit Watkins filed against the SEC last year.
"The SEC's Complaint has zero bases in facts and is nothing more than a baseless slander campaign against Mr. Watkins; we look forward to our day in court to exonerate Mr. Watkins from these false accusations," attorney Mario Williams said in a statement.
Williams said federal prosecutors with U.S Department of Justice, Office of Economic Crimes Unit in New Jersey closed a six-month investigation, "finding that there existed absolutely zero basis to charge Mr. Watkins with any criminal conduct."
Williams said Watkins has a "pristine track record of holding himself to the highest standards of ethical and legal conduct."
The complaint says Watkins and his companies with violating antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and a related antifraud rule. The money was invested between 2009 and 2014.
Watkins is a businessman, banker and attorney, who has tried to purchase a professional sports franchise. Federal regulators said Watkins touted his 2009 effort to try to buy an NFL franchise in his talks with investors in his two companies. In 2002, Watkins announced plans to try to purchase the Minnesota Twins.