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News / Churches & Religion

John Bishop appeals his drug sentence

Former Vancouver pastor got 5 years after pleading guilty

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor, and
Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: December 14, 2018, 6:00am

Former Living Hope Church pastor John Bishop is appealing his sentence in his federal drug-smuggling case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite saying to the judge at sentencing: “One hundred percent, your judgment is what God wants.”

Just days after receiving a five-year federal prison sentence, Bishop, 55, penned a handwritten letter from a Santa Ana, Calif., jail announcing his intent to appeal. His notice was filed Dec. 3, court records show.

It is unclear on what basis Bishop is appealing. His legal brief is not due to the court until March 4.

Bishop previously waived most of his rights to an appeal. However, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, a defendant who signed an appeal waiver still can claim he was denied effective assistance of counsel at sentencing, that he was sentenced on basis of race, or that the sentence exceeded the statutory maximum.

Bishop pleaded guilty in February in U.S. District Court in San Diego to unlawful importation of a controlled substance-marijuana, after smuggling nearly 300 pounds of pot into the United States from Mexico in December 2017.

The story of how the former pastor ended up in federal custody was detailed in a series of Columbian stories published in September.

Sentencing was set over a half-dozen times before Chief U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz sentenced Bishop on Nov. 21. During sentencing, a contrite Bishop claimed that being in custody has changed his life, and he believed God sent him on this path. He said he had even started a Bible study group with five other inmates at the Santa Ana Jail.

According to the jail roster, Bishop is no longer being held at Santa Ana. He had requested to be imprisoned in the Western region, but federal inmate records do not yet show where he’s being housed.

‘Pharmaceutical representative’

Although the statutory minimum sentence for Bishop’s crime is five years, he had hoped to receive a reduced sentence under the so-called Safety Valve provision, which allows for a lesser sentence for certain nonviolent drug offenders with little to no criminal history. His deal fell apart, however, when new evidence showed he repeatedly had been untruthful with prosecutors and the FBI.

The prosecution learned that Bishop had made up to 20 trips across the border running marijuana — earning about $50,000 — contrary to what he initially told investigators, and had contemplated transporting Mexican heroin to Vancouver.

Court documents say that text messages found on Bishop’s phone also indicated that his now-estranged wife, Michelle Bishop, 55, and their son David Bishop, 33, were involved in the drug-running and that the couple spent the proceeds on luxuries, such as a cruise and trip to a Disney theme park. Neither Michelle Bishop nor David Bishop have been charged with a federal crime. The FBI would not confirm or deny whether the agency is investigating them.

The FBI reviewed John Bishop’s text messages between April 1, 2016, and Dec. 11, 2017, ultimately finding he “welcomed the drug trafficking proceeds he received. He also appeared to enjoy and utilize the power and name recognition he believed he carried within the ‘cartel,’ ” and was a willing participant. In one text exchange, Bishop asked for a car and bodyguard while in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where his family had a house.

“Bishop explained he had people to visit and needed to be ‘visible,’ ” states the FBI report, which was recently obtained by The Columbian.

According to the FBI, Bishop was working for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and/or the Tijuana New Generation Cartel in Mexico. When asked what he does for a living, Bishop said he told people he was an “international pharmaceutical representative.” Not only was he trafficking marijuana, but he was using the product, the FBI found.

Bishop told his wife that “Ozark,” a Netflix series about a family who gets entangled with a Mexican drug lord and local criminals, “gives me advice,” according to the text message review.

Court records say Michelle Bishop not only knew about, but encouraged and joked with her husband about the illicit activities. Neither of them had legitimate employment for an extended period of time, the FBI found, and in one text exchange, Michelle Bishop said she “jumped at” the opportunity to clean the drug money, also known as money laundering, by making it appear legitimate.

John Bishop and his son talked extensively about David Bishop’s involvement in the cartel. David Bishop told his father he was “making and breaking all the right connections and contacts for us; just trust me a little,” according to the FBI’s report.

The two “were repeatedly conspiring to start their own drug trafficking business,” and John Bishop also discussed starting a marijuana business with someone else, the FBI found.

“Bishop advised he would run part of the business in California, and David would run the other half from Mexico, while also driving/transporting the narcotics,” the FBI review states. The two apparently talked over encrypted apps at times and discussed using burner phones.

Several text messages “clearly represented Bishop’s character, the extent of violence he was willing to have inflicted on another individual, and the level of involvement and power he and others (including his son, David) perceived Bishop had with the ‘cartel,’ ” the FBI report says.

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Days before his arrest, Bishop discussed two separate potential murder-for-hire plots. One of the targeted people was apparently a Hells Angels motorcycle club member who lived near David Bishop in Cabo and with whom they had problems.

“The best and only option is he is dead. … With him, it is the absolute and only option. … I want to know. If one, we can have permission. Second, what are the consequences to me if any. Three, how much cash. Four, how soon can it happen. I am not drunk. I am not being stupid. I am and I will do anything to protect my family,” John Bishop texted to his son.

Bishop’s arrest at the U.S.-Mexico border apparently happened on his last planned run before taking a break for the holidays.

“Things will stop on December 10th or 11th. For the holidays. My plan is to work until then with a new number. And new life for us,” he texted his wife.

Bishop had repeatedly talked about quitting before that, and Michelle Bishop had mentioned him going back to preaching. “However, the draw of making more money through the drug trafficking proceeds sustained his motivation to continue participating in the illegal activity,” the FBI review said.

Fraud investigation

Regardless of the outcome of his drug case, more federal proceedings may await John Bishop.

Since Bishop was sentenced, the FBI has acknowledged that prior to the drug-smuggling case it had begun investigating him for alleged fraud.

When he was ousted from Vancouver’s Living Hope Church, there were allegations he had embezzled from the church. The FBI previously told The Columbian it was aware of those allegations, but at that time would not say if the agency was investigating.

However, in an Nov. 29 email, FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich said: “The Seattle FBI was notified of Bishop’s arrest (at the border) because of our existing investigation into fraud allegations against him. We adopted and worked the drug-smuggling case because the FBI has a long-established transnational organized crime program dedicated to eliminating the criminal enterprises that pose the greatest threat to America.”

It is unclear if the fraud investigation is related to Living Hope. The FBI declined to further discuss the investigation.

Bishop has repeatedly denied any financial wrongdoing associated with the church and said he never had access to bank accounts nor stole anything.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith