A California man who owned nine marijuana dispensaries has been sentenced to more than 21 years in federal prison.
The sentence, handed down on Monday by U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, was among the largest obtained by the U.S. Justice Department in its crackdown on marijuana operations in Southern California.
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles indicted John Melvin Walker, 57, on October 16 on charges that he masterminded a drug trafficking operation using marijuana stores located throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties. The indictment charged 13 additional people — most of them store operators.
"Defendant was the kingpin of a large, organized criminal enterprise awash in narcotics, firearms, and, most of all, money," assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Bautista wrote in a July 8 sentencing document. "Defendant knowingly and willfully led a criminal enterprise that involved selling massive amounts of marijuana under the guise of 'compassionate health,' distributing marijuana near schools, recruiting others to manage his stores, and paying others to transport drugs for him, count his money, and deliver millions of dollars in drug profits to him."
Walker's attorney, Katherine Corrigan of Corrigan & Welbourn in Newport Beach, Calif., did not return a call for comment.
According to a plea deal he reached on March 2, Walker, also known as "Pops," admitted making $25 million in profits from sales of marijuana over six years at the stores, which were located in cities including Long Beach and Santa Ana. He also admitted possessing firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle.
Walker, who has previous convictions on drug trafficking charges, pleaded guilty to two felony counts: Tax evasion and conspiring to distribute more than a ton of marijuana while also maintaining premises that involved illegal drugs.
In a July 1 sentencing brief, Walker, who is married and has two daughters, sought 15 years in prison. Prosecutors asked for 21 years and 10 months.
In addition to the prison term, Walker must pay more than $2.4 million to the Internal Revenue Service and $1.8 million to the California State Board of Equalization. He agreed to forfeit to the U.S. government $25 million in illegal income, including more than $500,000 cash seized by law enforcement authorities, and numerous assets, including his gated house in San Clemente, Calif., which features a large pool and a view of the Pacific Ocean; several mobile homes in the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.; and interests in two strip clubs.
"Defendant lived a luxurious life where neither he nor his spouse had to work in a legitimate job, his family could reside in…an opulent mansion, and he could send his children to an exclusive private school," Bautista wrote. "Defendant is a charming, manipulative, smart, and greedy man. He was given many opportunities to lead a law-abiding life, and was supported by a loving family. Yet, he chose to build an empire that destroyed not only his life, but the lives of others."
Contact Amanda Bronstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.