Even before he allegedly plotted to kidnap, torture and murder U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford with a wood chipper machine, Orange County's John Arthur Walthall personified the type of twisted villain Hollywood scriptwriters crave for crime fictions.
Audacious beyond belief, Walthall is a gifted con artist, who in 2007-2008 tricked wealthy investors out of $5.5 million to supposedly extract gold from old, abandoned mines in Nevada, Imperial Valley and Brazil.
He instead diverted funds into more than 30 bank accounts to mask his financial crimes, which included using investor's money to send a son to the New York Film Academy, make child support to an ex-wife, secure a premium personal ad on eHarmony, buy gifts for a girlfriend, pay off credit card debts and loans for three Ford pickup trucks, and purchase a Fortius 420 Hyperbaric Chamber.
Arrested by the FBI in Nov. 2009, Walthall pretended he couldn't walk, and dramatically coughed and gasped for air throughout conversations, though special agents conducting surveillance later observed the then-54-year-old man functioning normally in public when he thought nobody was watching, according to a government report.
His medical excuses created at least six delays in a trial date and, in June 2011, he became a fugitive, forfeited $150,000 bail, fled to Nevada, created a fake identity (Art Langford), found a new gold mine investment scam victim and bought a handgun with a barrel extender as well as multiple cell phones and a book, "How to be Invisible."
Either the book sucked or Walthall wasn't destined for invisibility. It took only a month for law enforcement to capture him in Mesquite, Nevada. After a four-week trial in Dec. 2011, a jury convicted him of wire fraud counts and a George W. Bush lifetime judicial appointee, Guilford, sentenced him to 168 months in prison, 77 months less than sought by U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors Ivy Wang and Mark P. Takla.
Back to the wood chipper.
Walthall apparently didn't appreciate the generosity. According to a Nov. 2014 grand jury indictment, he tried to hire hit men earlier that year to kidnap the affable, well-respected judge, torture him into apologizing for his court rulings and then kill him similar to the gruesome, noisy scene in Fargo. He is also charged with soliciting the murders of Wang, Takla and two FBI agents.
Walthall "approached two federal inmates to obtain connections to carry [out the murder plots]; met with an undercover officer he believed to be capable of executing his instructions through a squad of hit men; and described in detail, in writings and recorded conversations, the plan, including to have [Guilford] kidnapped, forced to concede error in his prior judicial rulings and tortured with a wood chipper, before ultimately being shredded to death by this machine," a court brief states.
To delay his latest case, Walthall has attempted unsuccessfully to recuse Orange County's entire federal bench and is now in the process of claiming he can't be tried for the assassination plot charge because he's nuts.
Last Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ordered the defendant to stop blabbering during a court session and then removed him from the proceedings when he couldn't gain compliance. Carney told a Bureau of Prisons psychiatrist to test the defendant. Federal officials believed he's faking mental incompetence because, in their view, he's a notorious liar. This judge scheduled a Nov. 9 hearing on the findings. Meanwhile, a Jan. 26, 2016 trial date remains set inside Santa Ana's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.