FBI Officially Intervened In Disney’s Moving “Plans,” New State Home Blocked With Federal Charges

in Walt Disney World

Mickey Mouse and Fab 5 at Disney World inside of the Texas state outline with FBI employee

Over the last year, the relationship between The Walt Disney Company and the Florida government has never been more fraught. The highly-publicized fallout following 2022’s Don’t Say Gay Bill is still causing waves today, with Governor Ron DeSantis throwing everything he’s got at the House of Mouse. The internet is currently tied up in commentary on Disney World moving plans, but will the company’s leading Resort ever pack up and leave Orlando?

Cinderella Castle from under archway
Credit: Disney

Disney World Moving Plans and Florida

What happened with Disney World and Ron DeSantis?

The journey to where we are today, including the commentary on Disney World moving plans, stems from the very public fallout between The Walt Disney Company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Last year, Florida state assembly members Joe Harding and Dennis Baxley introduced the legislation now known as the Parental Rights in Education Act, or as it became more commonly known, the Don’t Say Gay Bill. HB 1557, its official designation, prohibits discussions about gender and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade but can be extended throughout all grades if discussions are deemed against state standards. HB 1557 also prohibits schools from using any form of confidentiality, in the student’s interest, from parents when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation.

Cinderella Castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Credit: Disney

Related: Disney Sidesteps DeSantis – Appeals to Florida Public In New Press Release

The bill successfully passed through the Florida House of Representatives, and the Florida Senate, eventually being signed into law by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on March 28, 2022. The Parental Rights in Education Act became effective on July 1, 2022.

Disney’s original link to this controversial bill was a report which uncovered that the House of Mouse had donated funds to government officials who were in favor of the new legislation. Upon widespread backlash and protests, including from Disney employees and Cast Members working at the theme parks in Central Florida, then-CEO Bob Chapek condemned the actions of the government.

Bob Iger (left) and Bob Chapek (right) at 'Star Wars': Galaxy's Edge
Credit: Disney

Chapek said Disney opposed the bill from the beginning, saying “they chose not to take a public position on it because [they] thought [they] could be more effective working behind-the-scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers — on both sides of the aisle,” (via NPR).

In mid-March, prior to the Governor’s signing of the bill, Chapek called Ron DeSantis to express his disappointment with this new policy, stating that if it became law, “it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary, and transgender kids and families.”

DeSantis did sign the bill into law, and what followed was a war waged on the homefront, the results of which are still prominent to this day.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis giving a speech
Credit: ABC News

What is Reedy Creek?

The Reedy Creek Improvement District stood strong for 56 years. It was established for the building of the Walt Disney World Resort and was passed by the state of Florida in 1967, giving the district complete authority over the area which surrounds the Disney Parks.

Now encompassing Disney World’s four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios), two water parks (Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park), Disney Springs, and over 25 Resort hotels, the Reedy Creek Improvement District was partially lobbied for with proposals for Walt’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow — an innovative lived-in city.

Reedy Creek Fire Department
Credit: Reedy Creek Fire Department Website

That, of course, never came to pass after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, but the core values of that proposed community still live on today in the cultural celebration of World Showcase within EPCOT.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District had powers akin to a county government and provided public services like firefighters and a police force while imposing taxes for the aforementioned government services. The established area also saw the formation of two cities, Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake.

But that would all change after Disney challenged the Governor over the controversial Don’t Say Gay Bill.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis giving a conference in front of the United States flag
Credit: CBS News

In April 2022, Ron DeSantis said the government would be looking into past legislation, such as the one with established Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, in a possible retaliation to the company’s opposition to the HB 1557 bill.

Later, a bill abolishing the special tax district was passed. Eventually, the bill was altered to rename the Reedy Creek Improvement District and place it under government control instead of full abolishment. This area became known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), with five board members chosen by the Governor himself — of which none could be employees of The Walt Disney Company and have worked in the theme park industry for the last three years.

The new Magic Kingdom Central Plaza area between Main Street, U.S.A. and Cinderella Castle.
Credit: Disney

The CFTOD would have complete authority over the elements of the Walt Disney World Resort that the RCID did; however, in a stunning last-minute move by Disney, the House of Mouse employed a law that restricted CFTOD’s power, thanks to King Charles III.

And here we are, over a year on, and Ron DeSantis is throwing everything he has got at The Walt Disney Company. The Governor’s likely 2024 Presidential bid could be at risk following the fallout and mishandling of the Disney situation. A man that was once seen as a leader and doer of the Republican Party has, over the course of a year, gained backlash over his attack on a private company and his seeming ignorance of other issues within his state.

Child wearing Mickey Mouse hat with parents in front of Cinderella Castle
Credit: Disney

Is Disney World moving states?

When the disagreement between Disney World and the Florida government first ignited, invitations from other states in North America fell at Mickey Mouse’s feet. Early in the Disney and DeSantis war, California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted Disney and said that “the door is always open to bring those jobs back to California.” California, which is home to Walt’s first park, Disneyland Resort, was followed by Colorado when Governor Jared Polis tweeted his state would offer Mickey and Minnie full asylum.

Shortly after, the Lone Star state opened its doors when Fort Bend County Judge K. P. George emailed The Walt Disney Company’s Bob Chapek with an invitation to build a brand-new theme park in South Texas, touting the state’s “wide open and affordable land.”

Main Street Station as the Walt Disney World Railroad pulls in, at dusk.
Credit: Disney

Disney World moving plans resurfaced earlier this year amid Ron DeSantis implying he may build a prison on Walt Disney World Resort property.

First, Michael Garrett — the State Senator for North Carolina — filed a bill that seeks $750,000 in investment to build out a committee whose task would be to work out the best methods to attract Disney and the Walt Disney World Resort to move to the Tar Heel State. Named Mickey’s Freedom Restoration Act, North Carolina’s bid to house Disney World was followed by another invitation from Texas, this time from Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez.

Mickey and friends - Magic Kingdom - Disney World -
Credit: Disney

The Judge penned an open letter to Disney CEO Bob Iger in a bid to get the Walt Disney World Resort to move to the seventh most populous county in Texas, saying, in part, that “Government should always help, not hinder the business.” The letter went on to say how Disney’s response has been “impressive.”

And this isn’t the first time Texas has been involved in Disney World moving plans — except previously, it came at the cost of millions of dollars and ended in federal charges being filed after the FBI got involved.

Crowds at Disney World's Animal Kingdom
Credit: Inside the Magic

Disney World Moving Plans and Texas

What is the Thomas Lucas Jr. case?

Thomas Lucas Jr. is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence. Why? Because he successfully frauded the communities in Texas out of millions of dollars using elaborate plans of a Disney Resort, akin to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, coming to the Lone Star state.

From 2006 for four years, Lucas Jr. took money from over 250 investors by claiming he knew of a Disney Resort coming to a rural area around 50 miles north of Dallas, Texas. Through his lies, the criminal successfully planted seeds of urgency and want in local investors with a chance to make big money — Lucas Jr. offered investors the land surrounding this fictional Disney Resort, who, according to the FBI, lost every cent they invested. A number north of $8 million.

Low crowds at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Credit: Alice S.

Lucas Jr. not only managed to get strangers to believe his fictional tale but members of his own family too. His father and uncle bought land in the area outright.

Special Agent Rick Velasquez of the FBI’s Dallas Division said (via Disney Dining):

“Thomas Lucas, Jr. fooled savvy investors and very intelligent people. He was a very believable guy.”

The agent went on to add that “there was not one grain of truth in Lucas’ presentations, but his pitch was very elaborate, and it fooled a lot of people.”

The FBI investigation revealed that Lucas Jr. claimed to have letters between Disney and a management firm saying the corporation had acquired enough land to “make the deal happen.” The letters were complete with forged signatures of Disney officials, maps, presentations, and images.

Magic Kingdom crowds aerial view at Disney World
Credit: bioreconstruct

Related: DeSantis Backs Proposed Bill, Florida’s Worst Anti-LGBTQ+ Move Yet

According to Lucas Jr., Disney planned to make the announcement at the Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving in 2006. When that didn’t happen, he kept investors baited with claims that the reveal would be coming in 2007, 2008, then on the Fourth of July at the Beijing Olympic Games. On and on.

The constant delays in Disney’s apparent announcements and the continuing monetary donations from investors eventually caught the attention of the FBI, and in 2014 Thomas Lucas Jr. was charged with seven counts of wire fraud and one count of lying to the FBI. A year later, he was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Walt Disney Presents the Florida Project
Credit: D23

Will Disney ever move to Texas?

At this time, there are no public plans to bring a Disney Park, attractions, or Disney experience to Texas. However, the ball is certainly in Disney’s court after numerous invitations from the Lone Star state over the years.

That said, it is not just the pressure laid on by Florida Legislature that may make Disney consider opening house elsewhere. Last year, Universal Parks & Resorts, now Universal Destinations & Experiences, announced it would be opening a new theme park experience in Frisco, Texas. The announcement came in tandem with the reveal that an all-year-round horror experience would also be coming to Las Vegas, Nevada. Universal Orlando Resort will open its third theme park gate, Universal’s Epic Universe, in 2025.

Concept art for an all-new Universal theme park planned to open in Frisco, Texas
Credit: Universal

As of today, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products do not have anything lined up for the Lone Star state, but could that all change thanks to the war being waged in Florida? Only time will tell if visiting Disney World will mean traveling to a different state.

Did you know about the FBI getting involved in Disney’s moving “plans”? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments down below!

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