Con man who concocted ‘diabolical, murderous scheme’ to kill federal judge sentenced to 20 years

U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford in his chambers in Santa Ana in January. He was the target of a plot to kidnap and torture him.
U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford in his chambers in Santa Ana in January. He was the target of a plot to kidnap and torture him.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A convicted con man who plotted to have a federal judge killed with a wood chipper and federal prosecutors and FBI agents slain in a scheme for revenge was sentenced Friday to 20 more years in prison.

John Arthur Walthall, 61, a former Laguna Beach resident, was already serving a 14-year prison sentence in Lompoc for defrauding an elderly couple out of $5.5 million by claiming he could extract gold from abandoned mines.

According to authorities, Walthall hatched a grisly plan for retribution against the federal prosecutors, agents and judge who helped put him behind bars.

On Friday in Santa Ana, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney sentenced Walthall to an additional 20 years — the maximum sentence — for one felony count of solicitation to commit a crime of violence. A jury found him guilty in July.

Carney said Walthall likely will spend the rest of his life in prison. He recommended that Walthall have limited access to other prisoners.


“Mr. Walthall is a manipulative, angry, cruel and sadistic man,” Carney said during the sentencing. “He concocted his diabolical, murderous scheme so he could get out of jail and continue a life of crime.”

Walthall said he intends to appeal the sentence to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case began in 2007 when Walthall persuaded an Orange County couple in their 80s to invest millions of dollars in a partnership that would pull gold out of abandoned mines. Instead, Walthall used the money to pay his son’s film school tuition, buy a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and pay alimony to his ex-wife, prosecutors said.

Walthall was charged in 2009 and stretched out his prosecution with delays and a claim of illness, according to court papers. In 2011, he jumped bail and fled to Mesquite, Nev., where he lived under the alias Art Langford. He was found with a handgun, cellphones and the book “How to Be Invisible.”

In 2012, jurors convicted Walthall of four counts of wire fraud and one count of failure to appear in court.

Prosecutors contended during his most recent trial that once he was behind bars, Walthall prepared a detailed plan and approached two inmates, Antonio Rodriguez and Crisanto Diego Trejo-Ortiz, to help him carry out his revenge plot.

The plan, prosecutors said, was for hired hands to kill the prosecutors and FBI agents who won the conviction against Walthall.

Judge Andrew Guilford would be kidnapped and forced to exonerate him. Then the judge would be tortured and shredded by a wood chipper, according to court papers.

Walthall would pay up to $1 million per victim, according to court papers.

But the two inmates alerted the FBI, and Walthall later laid out his plans to an undercover agent, court documents state.

Defense attorney Timothy Scott said in court Friday that the informants entrapped and manipulated Walthall, who he said suffers from mental illness, in an effort to reduce their own prison sentences. Scott said the two men have a “track record of foisting time onto other people.”

“I stand by the notion that Mr. Walthall was approached by these two inmates,” Scott said.

Walthall alleged during Friday’s hearing that the judicial system, including his own attorney, was conspiring against him.

“He’s going to send me to prison to die,” Walthall said.

Fry writes for Times Community News.


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