Walt Disney Company
Walt Disney Company offices Reuters

An American man has been jailed for 17 and a half years after conning more than 280 would-be investors out of $20m (£13m; EUR18m) by claiming to have inside information on the future location of a Walt Disney theme park.

Thomas W Lucas Jr, of Plano, Texas, forged artistic impressions, site plans and maps related to "Frontier Disney Dallas-Fort Worth", telling investors the land they bought was on the edges of the theme park site and could be sold on for a profit once Disney announced their decision.

Lucas, 35, was ordered to pay $8.4m (£5.5m; EUR7.6m) in restitution after he was convicted of seven counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to the FBI. According to court documents, between 2006 and 2010 Lucas managed to defraud investors by claiming to have inside information on the park, which he said was provided to him by a secret source.

Prosecutors said he raked in $448,000 (£294,000; EUR402,000) in sales commissions and fees from the land deals. He also splashed out tens of thousands of dollars on a lavish 2007 holiday to London, where he ate at expensive restaurants, went clubbing and was chauffeured around the city.

US District Judge Amos Mazzant said Lucas' actions "caused a lot of damage to a lot of people", adding: "I see no remorse whatsoever." After he was sentenced to 17-and-a-half years in federal prison on 1 September, Lucas issued a brief statement saying he was "heartbroken and ashamed" by his actions. Walt Disney has denied the rumours of a theme park in North Texas.