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Convicted Fraudster Gets 20 Years For Plotting To Kill Federal Officials, Including Judge He Wanted Shoved In Wood Chipper

John Walthall was accused of fleecing millions from an elderly couple before going on the run. He later attempted to have federal prosecutors and agents in the case killed, even threatening their families.

By Jax Miller
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

A convicted fraudster from California has been sentenced for trying to assemble a hit squad to murder federal officials involved in his case.

John Arthur Walthall, 67, will spend the next 20 years in federal prison, plus three years of supervised release, according to a sentencing memorandum filed with the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California. Monday’s memo, obtained by Law & Crime, comes five months after Walthall was found guilty of the murder-for-hire scheme against the authorities who helped put him away for 14 years for a fraudulent gold investment scheme.

Those targeted in Walthall’s plot included U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford, assistant U.S. attorneys Ivy Wang and Mark Takla, and FBI agents Brad Howard and Frank Bernal, according to the memo.

Part of Walthall’s thwarted plans involved him saying he wanted Judge Guilford to die a “nice and painful death” by being shoved into a wood chipper.

“Simply put, they were targeted for showing up to work and doing their job,” federal authorities stated.

Walthall was charged in 2009 - and later convicted in 2012 - of fleecing an elderly couple out of $5.5 million as part of a fake gold-mining scheme in California. According to the Department of Justice, the couple were in their 80s and forked over their life savings under the pretense that Walthall could extract gold from abandoned mines.

Walthall used the elderly couple’s money for various personal purchases, including a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and his son’s film school tuition.

He evaded prosecution through several continuances and what feds referred to as a bogus hospital stay before the FBI marked him as a fugitive in 2011.

Walthall was apprehended in Nevada five months later, living under a false name. He was found with 10 cell phones with different area codes, multiple weapons, a silencer, and a book titled “How to be Invisible,” according to court documents.

Police said they found him with three identical handguns, three extra barrels, and multiple magazines. Federal prosecutors said it was part of a separate plot to have local-level police officers killed, a history feds cited in their recent sentencing recommendation.

“As provided in the pre-sentence report, the sentencing in the underlying matter, and touched upon in this trial, Walthall had previously undertaken efforts to inflict violence on those involved in his previous prosecution," the sentencing memo stated.

Walthall allegedly told a prison informant that he “would have killed them all” and further made plans to kill those behind his potential prosecution.

“Walthall bought that desire for revenge with him to Lompoc prison in 2012,” feds stated. “Over time, Walthall recruited and solicited others to kidnap, torture, and kill those named in the indictment and several others, including family members and coworkers of the named victims, as well as his own defense attorney in the prior prosecution.”

Walthall told his plans to fellow inmates, who tipped off federal authorities, stating he wanted Judge Guilford abducted in hopes of having him fully exonerate Walthall of the fraud charges. Walthall also offered $1 million to several potential hitmen who could kill the others “on the spot.”

Many of these conversations were recorded, as published in the memo.

“I want to uproot Brad Howard, root and branch,” Walthall said of one of the FBI agents. “I want to kill him, his father, his f-----g wife, and his f-----g kid.”

In 2012, Guilford - the man Walthall wanted dead - sentenced him to 14 years in prison for fraud and ordered him to pay $2.5 million in restitution, according to the Department of Justice.

In 2014, Walthall was indicted for the murder-for-hire charges against the federal authorities and convicted in 2016. However, the 2016 conviction was overturned on the grounds that Walthall wasn’t aware he could represent himself during the trial, even after denouncing the capabilities of his previous attorney.

The recent sentencing comes after his retrial.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney called it a “diabolical murder scheme” in which Walthall knew his actions were “terribly wrong,” according to Law & Crime.

“Walthall’s unflinching, undiminished craving to kidnap, torture, and kill those involved in his prior case, as well as their family members, is something that cannot be overstated,” the sentencing memo states. “That continued pursuit by Walthall, despite all that has been done to dissuade him clearly supports the recommendation of both the United States and the probation department in this matter.”

But even U.S. Attorneys aren’t certain that the recent sentence will detract Walthall from trying to have others killed.

“It’s unclear whether any sentence imposed by the court will deter Walthall from continuing to try to harm those involved in his prosecution,” the memo stated. “But this Court’s sentence should attempt to do so and also make clear that those working in the criminal justice system can never - under any circumstance, much less a desire for revenge - be targeted.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Walthall is being housed at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center. His 20-year term is to run consecutively with his fraud sentence.