Longtime Branson Entertainer James Patrick Garrett has plead guilty to stealing more than $85,000 in a fraud scheme.
In a press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Missouri announced that Garrett, 65, of Branson pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday, March 18 to stealing more than $85,000 from hundreds of his own audience members who donated to his non-existent charity for foster children.
“For several years, this performer took advantage of his own audiences by pulling at their heartstrings while stealing from their pockets,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Teresa A. Moore in the release. “He cynically and greedily victimized donors who falsely believed they were helping foster children. There’s no way to know how much cash was actually stolen, but we intend to seek restitution for the victims law enforcement has identified, as well as prison time and a hefty fine.”
Garrett waived his right to a grand jury and plead guilty to a federal information that charges him with one count of wire fraud.
“Today’s plea is a reminder that the United States Secret Service is committed to aggressively investigating and pursuing those who commit financial crimes,” said U.S. Secret Service Kansas City Field Office Special Agent in Charge Brandon C. Bridgeforth in the release. “This defendant used his theater and platform as a performer, to prey on the generosity of those attending his performances. The defendant took advantage of these people who thought they were helping children in need, and then defrauded them. This investigation is a testament to the strong partnership between the Secret Service, the Branson, Mo., Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
In 2001 Garrett began performing at the Jim Stafford Theatre in Branson. After six years, Garrett made a move to The Little Opry Theatre inside the Branson Imax Entertainment Complex where, for more than a decade now, he has headlined multiple shows, according to his personal website.
Garrett’s first show at the theatre, A Tribute to John Denver, began in January 2007. Then in April 2008, Garrett debuted his next show at the same theatre called George Straight Country. In recent years Garrett has added additional shows to his Little Opry Theatre line-up including The Glen Campbell Songbook and Neil Diamond Gold, said his website.
“The Branson Police Department is always looking out for the best interest of our residents and visitors,” said Branson Police Chief Jeff Matthews in the release. “We initiated this investigation and presented it to our federal partners at the United States Secret Service last year. They adopted the case and were successful in presenting it to the U.S. Attorney for prosecution. These kinds of relationships and partnerships help us protect our community and the values Branson is known for.”
According to the release, on Nov. 3, 2012, Garrett created Diamond Jym Ranch, Inc., with himself as president and a member of its board of directors. Diamond Jym Ranch was ostensibly created for “the purpose of establishing homes for displaced or homeless boys or girls, to provide training and education for such children, to provide them with food, lodging, and their well being,” according to its articles of incorporation.
By pleading guilty today, Garrett admitted that he victimized his audience members through a fraud scheme that lasted from March 2016 to August 2020. At the conclusion of each John Denver Tribute, Garrett solicited members of his audience to donate to Diamond Jym Ranch. Garrett falsely told audiences that he had created homes for foster children in Branson and Texas. Garrett told audience members their donations to Diamond Jym Ranch would go to support the foster homes and to support foster children. None of those claims were true, and Garrett knew they were false at the time he made the representations, the release stated.
Garrett would place a donation box at the exit of the theatre where he performed the John Denver Tribute. After the show hundreds of his audience members left their donations in the donation box. Garrett also directed audience members who wanted to make monthly or regular donations to Diamond Jym Ranch to mail their checks to his home address in Branson, according to the release.
“Garrett admitted that he used the money that he raised for his personal living expenses, which included frequently dining out at Branson restaurants, credit card debt, rent, taxes, mortgage payments, health insurance, and automobile insurance,” the release stated. “In total, over the course of many years, Garrett induced hundreds of John Denver Tribute audience members to make financial donations to Diamond Jym Ranch. Garrett’s scheme to defraud resulted in a collective loss to his victims of at least $85,525.”
According to the release, the specific charge to which Garrett plead guilty to on March 18 also involves a $1,000 contribution made by an audience member identified in court documents as “D.C.,” a resident of Illinois. Garrett used D.C.’s donation for his own personal purposes and not to the benefit of foster children.
Under federal statutes, Garrett is subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office, stated the release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon Kempf. is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service and the Branson Police Department, as part of the U.S. Secret Service Financial Crimes Task Force.