JULY 22 (SANTA ANA, Calif.)– A San Clemente man who owned and operated a string of nine illegal marijuana stores that generated at least $25 million in profits was sentenced today to 262 months in federal prison.
John Melvin Walker, also known as “Pops,” 56, of San Clemente, was sentenced by United States District Judge James V. Selna. In addition to the prison term, Judge Selna ordered Walker to pay the Internal Revenue Service $2,415,409.29 and California State Board of Equalization $1,857,280.00 in restitution.
Walker pleaded guilty in April to two felony counts – one count of conspiring to distribute well over a ton of marijuana and maintaining drug-involved premises, and one count of tax evasion.
“Drug use and addiction continue to have devastating impact on far too many lives. Today's sentence demonstrates DEA's commitment to our communities and children by working with our law enforcement partners to investigate and bring to justice those who supply these dangerous drugs,” said Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams.
Walker was the lead defendant in a 14-defendant indictment returned by a federal grand jury last fall. The indictment outlined a drug-trafficking conspiracy led by Walker, who owned and operated at least nine marijuana stores in cities across Los Angeles and Orange counties. The nine marijuana stores were located in Long Beach, Dana Point, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Santa Fe Springs, Costa Mesa, Whittier, and San Juan Capistrano.
Walker was “the kingpin of a large, organized criminal enterprise awash in narcotics, firearms, and, most of all, money,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing brief. Walker admitted in the federal tax case that he earned approximately $25 million from marijuana sales over the course of six years. Walker specifically admitted that he earned $11.4 million in 2009, but reported to the Internal Revenue Service only a tiny fraction of that income. As part of his plea agreement, Walker agreed to pay the IRS more than $2.4 million in back taxes for years 2006 through 2011, as well as $1.8 million in restitution to the California Board of Equalization. In addition to the $4.2 million he has agreed to pay to federal and state tax authorities, Walker agreed to forfeit to the government $25 million in illegally obtained income, which includes, among other assets, more than $500,000 in cash previously seized by law enforcement authorities, his multi-million dollar home in San Clemente, a string of mobile homes in Mammoth Lakes, rental properties in Long Beach, and his interest in two strip clubs.
The sentencing memo filed by prosecutors argued 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 bought.”
Walker, a twice convicted felon, also admitted that he possessed firearms in relation to the drug-trafficking offense. Authorities discovered in one of Walker’s “stash houses” an AK-47-style assault rifle, three other firearms and ammunition.
Walker “wanted to be called ‘Pops’ for a reason,” according to the government’s sentencing memorandum. “He was in charge of this criminal organization. This was his scheme and he was the only authority that mattered in his criminal enterprise.” Walker has been in custody since pleading guilty in this case on April 1.
The investigation into Walker’s chain of marijuana stores was conducted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; IRS-Criminal Investigation; the California Board of Equalization; and the Orange County District