Defendant’s Trial on Tax Charges was to Have Begun Today
FORT WORTH, TX—Phillip Monroe Ballard, 71, currently an inmate at FCI Fort Worth, appeared this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey L. Cureton for a preliminary hearing on a federal criminal complaint that charges Ballard with soliciting the murder-for-hire of U.S. District Judge John McBryde of the Northern District of Texas. Judge Cureton found probable cause to believe that Ballard committed the offense charged. Ballard has been in federal custody on tax charges outlined in a federal indictment and was to go on trial today, before Judge McBryde, on those charges. On Friday, September 28, however, that trial setting was cancelled and Judge McBryde recused himself from the case. Today’s announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.
According to the affidavit filed with the complaint, earlier this month, an inmate at FCI Fort Worth reported that a fellow inmate, Ballard, had approached him about killing Judge McBryde. Ballard told this inmate that he was in prison on tax charges, that his case was assigned to Judge McBryde, and that he believed the judge would sentence him to more than 20 years in prison. Ballard told this fellow inmate that he wanted the judge killed. Trying to engage Ballard further because he was working as a confidential source for the FBI, the inmate told Ballard that he knew a guy on the outside who could do it. Ballard stated that he’d pay the inmate $100,000 in cash to have Judge McBryde killed so that his case would be transferred to another judge.
Ballard continued to advise the other inmate that he wanted Judge McBryde killed and provided him with detailed instructions, such as how it could be done with a high-powered rifle and scope. Ballard told him that he would pay him $100,000 in cash after the judge is dead. Ballard said that he has the money and would have it sent. Ballard even provided a contingency plan of planting a bomb in the judge’s vehicle to the inmate.
The inmate gave Ballard a handwritten letter from an undercover agent posing as the “killer,” which included contact information and notice that the “work” would be completed upon receipt of $5,000. Ballard called the undercover agent four times on September 26, 2012, and the following day, Ballard directed that the $5,000 payment be sent to the address provided by the undercover agent.
A federal complaint is a written statement of the essential facts of the offenses charged and must be made under oath before a magistrate judge. A defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Upon conviction, however, the maximum statutory sentence for the charge of murder for hire of an officer of the United States is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The government has 30 days to present the matter to a grand jury for indictment.
The investigation is being conducted by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Weimer is in charge of the prosecution.