A dozen people who authorities say are linked to an intricate, multimillion-dollar operation involving illegal pot shops in Los Angeles and Orange counties were arrested Thursday.
Authorities believe John Melvin Walker, also known as “Pops,” distributed at least a ton of marijuana through the operation of nine stores from Costa Mesa to Whittier.
The stores generated tens of millions of dollars in income, with one Dana Point store alone bringing in about $2.4 million, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Walker failed to report the income generated at the stores, according to a federal indictment, and instructed his bookkeeper to destroy all income records.
The 12 people arrested were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and maintaining drug-involved premises near schools.
Walker, 56, is also charged with being a felon in possession of firearms. He has previously been convicted on cocaine and marijuana charges, authorities said. The operation also allegedly involved Nicholas Einar Lattu, 28, who owned a company that would provide security services to the stores. Authorities said they are attempting to locate him.
The nine marijuana stores were identified as Alternative Herbal Health in Long Beach, Safe Harbor Collective in Dana Point, Garden Grove Alternative Care in Garden Grove, Santa Ana Superior Care in Santa Ana, Belmont Shore Natural Care in Long Beach, Santa Fe Compassionate Health Care in Santa Fe Springs, Costa Mesa Patients Assn. in Costa Mesa, the Whittier Collective in Whittier, and APCC (also known as the San Juan Capistrano Store) in San Juan Capistrano.
The investigation included the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the California Franchise Tax Board, and the Orange County district attorney's office.
This story was reported by Times Staff Writer Nicole Santa Cruz.