An Orange County man who pleaded guilty to running illegal dispensaries in Southern California was sentenced to nearly 22 years in federal prison on July 21, plus more than $4 million in fines and restitution.
San Clemente resident John Melvin “Pops” Walker, 56, ran at least nine dispensaries in Long Beach and Orange County. He was indicted last fall by a federal grand jury, along with 13 other defendants. In April he pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, tax evasion and weapons charges as part of a plea deal.
Walker admitted that the dispensaries were part of an illegal drug ring, and that he made more than $25 million in six years. He also admitted he dodged taxes on most of it.
“I live with this guilt on a daily basis,” he said in a letter that was read in court by his lawyer. “I have caused considerable mental anguish to my wife and family.”John Melvin “Pops” Walker was sentenced to 22 years.
Government raids last year turned up $500,000 in cash at a Long Beach stash house and at least a ton of marijuana in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Weapons were also found, though Walker’s lawyer said he inherited many of them.
The government described Walker as “the kingpin of a large, organized criminal enterprise awash in narcotics, firearms, and, most of all, money” whose actions weren’t “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.”
Still, Walker’s prosecution marks another notch in the efforts by various governments to shut down most of the dispensaries remaining in SoCal. Every locality surrounding L.A. has banned them, while L.A. has begun to enforce a new ordinance, passed by voters, that tightly restricts the number allowed within city limits.
At the same time, federal law enforcement is working closely with local authorities to prosecute dispensary owners who defy bans or displease the Department of Justice. Some of these, like Walker, may be genuine drug traffickers, while others are legitimate medical marijuana shops struggling to provide medicine for patients in need.
U.S. District Judge James Selna ordered Walker to pay the Internal Revenue Service $2.4 million and the California Board of Equalization $1.8 million. About $25 million in income was seized, along with his San Clemente home, several Mammoth Lakes mobile homes, some Long Beach real estate and an interest in two strip clubs.
Selna acknowledged Walker as a “family man and a good friend,” but said he is also an “extensive drug trafficker.” “I have to sentence the whole John Walker,” the judge said.
The dispensaries Walker ran have been identified as Alternative Herbal Health in Long Beach, APCC in San Juan Capistrano, Belmont Shore Natural Care in Long Beach, Costa Mesa Patients Association, Garden Grove Alternative Care in Garden Grove, Safe Harbor Collective in Dana Point, Santa Ana Superior Care, Santa Fe Compassionate Health Care in Santa Fe Springs, and the Whittier Collective.