Facing no less than 15 years, and the very real possibility of a life sentence, 56-year-old John Melvin Walker was sentenced yesterday to 22 years in federal prison stemming from a guilty verdict on charges of tax evasion and drug trafficking.
On April 1st of this year, Walker plead guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute marijuana and maintain a “drug-involved premises”, along with a 2nd count of tax evasion. Walker, who had two prior felony drug-related convictions in the State courts, was the owner of nine lucrative medical marijuana dispensaries strewn across Los Angeles and Orange Counties – a largely cash-and-carry business network that Walker admits bagged him over $25 million in his six years in operation.
In 2009 alone, Walker says that he earned a cool $11.4 million, but only reported an annual income of just over $200,000 to the IRS. He paid about $2600 in income taxes that year when he should have been on the hook for over $944,000.
Those nine shops, and their bookkeeping, were the target for a joint task force comprised of the DEA, the ATF, the IRS, the California Board of Equalization, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who rounded up and arrested Walker and 13 of his alleged associates.
Prior to his sentencing, Walker had agreed to give the IRS $2.4 million to cover his back-taxes from 2006-2011, as well as agreeing to pay out another $1.8 million to the California Board of Equalization. If a $4.20 million slap on the wrist seems too ironic to be true, the Federal Government stepped up next and swiped $25 million of “illegally obtained income”. That cache of wealth included homes in San Clemente, Mammoth Lakes, Long Beach, a lump sum of cash, and Walker’s interest in two SoCal strip clubs – classy.
When investigators turned over Walker’s personal residence in San Clemente, CA, they discovered over a half a million dollars in cash. At another home owned by Walker, authorities found an AK-47 assault rifle, a 12-guage shotgun, and two other firearms. Federal prosecutors referred to Walker’s business as a “criminal enterprise awash in narcotics, firearms, and most of all, money.”
Whether or not four guns constitute being “awash in firearms” may be debatable, but it was enough to beef up Walker’s charges, as a previously convicted felon.
Weed, guns, strip clubs – the media couldn’t resist.
For months local newspapers and blogs launched an effort to dig up dirt on not only Walker, but the other people named in the indictment. While most of them were nothing more than hourly employees working at what they thought was a legal medical marijuana dispensary, suddenly they were painted as being a part of some type of “gang”, of which Walker was the “ringleader”. Firebrand reporters, and even the United States Department of Justice, printed the full names of managers, security guards, and growers, often alongside out-of-context online screen-names, added solely for effect.
Walker admits that he ordered employees at the nine known dispensaries to shred documents when he felt the heat closing in. For actions such as those, 13 people were dragged out of their homes at gunpoint, in front of their families and neighbors – each of them suddenly facing the possibility of 10 years to life in prison. Positive vibes go out to them all.
In a memo filed by the prosecution at Walker’s sentencing, they state that Walker’s “conduct was not the result of some misplaced idealism or altruistic instinct, but was rather driven by his insatiable quest for the massive illicit profits generated by his crimes, and the luxurious lifestyle those profits brought.”
Whether you refer to him as “the ringleader”, “Pops”, or by his full name, the next 262 months of John Melvin Walker’s life are sure to be a stark contrast to the opulent position of command and control that he had grown accustomed to.