A San Clemente man pleaded guilty in federal court this morning to secretly owning a chain of nine medical marijuana clinics in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Because John Melvin "Pops" Walker has drug-related priors and was caught with firearms, the 56-year-old was looking at the possibility of life in prison. Under a plea deal, Walker agreed not to argue against Judge James V. Selna imposing a sentence of at least 15 years behind bars.
An investigation by the Orange County Sheriff's Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, the California Board of Equalization and the Orange County District Attorney's office resulted in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in October that named Walker and 13 others.
Walker was accused in the indictment of leading a drug-trafficking conspiracy that owned and operated at least nine marijuana stores: Alternative Herbal Health in Long Beach; Safe Harbor Collective in Dana Point; Garden Grove Alternative Care in Garden Grove; Santa Ana
Superior Care in Santa Ana; Belmont Shore Natural Care in Long Beach; Santa Fe Compassionate Health Care in Santa Fe Springs; Costa Mesa Patients Association in Costa Mesa; the Whittier Collective in Whittier; and APCC in San Juan Capistrano.
As R. Scott Moxley reported in November, Assistant United States Attorney Christine S. Bautista was upset that a federal judge released Walker on bail without specifying exactly why she was irked.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Walker, who has two prior felony drug-trafficking convictions from state court, admitted to directing managers of his
clinics to shred records to conceal taxable income from marijuana sales. Prosecutors alleged he earned about $25 million from these sales over six years but that he only reported hundreds of thousands each year in income. For instance, in 2009, Walker made $11.4 million but only reported $200,180 in income.
His guilty pleas include the acknowledgement that he owes the state and federal government more than $5 million in unpaid taxes and that he must forfeit to the government $25 million in illegally obtained income that will have him giving up cash and assets that include his $1.7 million home in San Clemente, a string of mobile homes in Mammoth Lakes, rental properties in Long Beach, and his interest in two strip clubs.
Walker also turned himself over for incarceration after pleading guilty today to tax evasion, conspiring to distribute well over a
ton of marijuana and to maintain drug-involved premises. The plea agreement allows for sentencing enhancements because an AK-47-style assault rifle, three other firearms and ammunition were found in one of his "stash houses," according to the government.
A search of Walker's residence turned up nearly $400,000 in cash hidden in a safe and approximately $145,000 in cash throughout the house, the statement adds.
Selna is scheduled to sentence Walker on July 22. The remaining defendants are scheduled to have their trial begin on Sept. 24.