One local attorney now probably wishes he thought twice before he agreed to befriend a local drug kingpin. On Monday United States District Court Judge James V. Selna sentenced Richard Brizendine to spend 3 months in prison and serve 2 years probation for laundering money.
This was the result of a plea deal that Brizendine agreed to, which required him to admit that he was laundering money for John Melvin Walker, aka “Pops,” a convicted drug lord.
Walker was convicted in 2013 for drug trafficking and tax evasion in connection to running no less than 9 marijuana storefronts. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amounts of $2.4 million to the Internal Revenue Service, and $1.8 million to the California State Board of Equalization.
At the time, Judge Selna (who also presided over Brizendine’s case) said he had to sentence the “whole John Walker” and that the sentence addresses both the “good John Walker” and the “bad John Walker”. This was in response to pleas from Walker’s friends, who pointed out that there were two of him – the man leading an organized drug empire, and the man supporting his family and friends.
In a media release, prosecutors explained Walker will, as a part of the plea agreement, forfeit $25 million in illegally obtained income to the government. This includes over half million dollars in cash, a mansion in San Clemente, several mobile homes located in Mammoth Lakes, interest in two strip clubs and various rentals in Long Beach.
Walker, the prosecution proved at the time, owned and operated at least nine marijuana storefronts in Orange County and Los Angeles. Among them were: Costa Mesa, Dana Pint, Garden Grove, San Juan Capistrano and Santa Ana.
Before conviction Walker lived in a mansion in San Clemente, which, according to documents, had six bedrooms, four bathrooms, Jacuzzi, large pool and casita in the backyard.
Walker also had two previous drug trafficking convictions and he pleaded guilty in April, 2013 for conspiring to distribute over a ton of weed and maintaining drug-involved premises, as well as tax evasion.
He was among 14 individuals indicted in fall 2012 by the federal grand jury. Most of them pleaded guilty.
Brizendine Admitted Laundering Money for Walker
Brizendine admitted to depositing money for Walker into several bank and business accounts for companies connected with him. In order to avoid federal filing requirements, the lawyer would limit individual deposits to $10,000.
He admitted to depositing almost $390,000 of Walker’s drug profits.
Kenneth Miller, the attorney representing Brizendine, argued against prison time and instead asked for probation or home confinement. He told Judge Selna that Brizendine will no longer be allowed to practice law and that he was already in debt.
Miller also reasoned that Walker’s business – selling medical marijuana – is legal under state law, although Brizendine admitted to going too far in laundering the money.
Michael Brown, Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Richard Brizendine, pointed out that the lawyer should have been well aware that his actions were illegal.
Brown told the judge, “Somebody who is in my profession who couldn’t foresee that committing this crime would lead to a loss of his license; I think that is a problem.”
Judge Selna agreed Brizendine had “done good things in life”, but was still of the opinion that some time was necessary in order to send a clear message to anyone thinking of doing the same.
He said that if a person engages in such conduct, they will go to prison.