Conspiracy Theory

Arms dealer-turned-gadfly Al Johnson thinks everyone's out to get him. He's right

In his smoky, cramped office filled with vintage rifle posters, books on warfare and military bric-a-brac, Al Johnson tells his favorite story. Filled with crooked politicians, drug dealers, international intrigue and, of course, a hero fighting for truth and justice, Johnson's engaging saga might make a novel or Hollywood thriller. Indeed, that's the plan. "I'm actively working on the books," he says. "There are parties that want to buy the screenplay, especially if I'm indicted."

If so, he may be close to a deal. Johnson has tried to sell the story many times before — to judges, law enforcement agencies, former business partners, ex-lovers. So far, instead of buying it, they're trying to put him in jail — on July 1, a grand jury indicted Johnson for perjury. He also faces trial on a criminal "deadbeat dad" charge. Either case could land him in jail for at least two years.

But that's all part of the unfolding drama, because Al Johnson's favorite story is about Al Johnson, the real-life protagonist in a tangled tale of lawyers, guns and money. He says he's the victim of a sweeping conspiracy that began in March 1993, when the Harris County District Attorney's office confiscated his machine guns, issued a felony indictment against him on a bogus bad-check charge and deprived him of his livelihood. And he insists it's true to the last detail, though he knows it all sounds rather far-fetched. "If I told me this story," he says with a rueful smile, "I'd throw me out of the office."

"One shot, one kill": Like his former associate, Bob Ellis loves his guns.
Phillippe Diederich
"One shot, one kill": Like his former associate, Bob Ellis loves his guns.
"One shot, one kill": Like his former associate, Bob Ellis loves his guns.
Bob Burtman
"One shot, one kill": Like his former associate, Bob Ellis loves his guns.

It might be easier for Johnson if he could back the details with hard evidence — copies of contracts for the millions of dollars in business he claims to have transacted in South and Central America, for example, or correspondence with the elusive operatives in Mexico City he says are now working to vindicate him — but such evidence is in short supply. "There doesn't seem to be a whole lot that he can produce to back up anything he says," agrees his court-appointed attorney, Jim Mount.

Johnson has an explanation for everything, and the absence of documentation is no exception. He used to have it, he says, but his enemies burglarized his office and stole his computer and files, leaving no records.

As for proof that his Mexico City friends actually exist, Johnson says he can't divulge their whereabouts for security reasons. "If anyone knew where they were, they could be killed," he says.

A jury might have trouble accepting that. But under every ozone-layer comment Johnson makes there seems to lie a maddening nugget of truth that renders obvious conclusions — that Johnson is a con man or a nut — inadequate. Many of his computer and paper files are in fact in the possession of his most rabid detractors. And those files do give credence to some of his more outlandish claims, such as being an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency, hobnobbing with Guatemalan generals or selling police equipment to the Colombian military.

Even those who most dislike Johnson offer countervailing impressions, of a gallant, savvy wheeler-dealer who could easily have succeeded in the complex world of international high finance. "When you start talking about Al, you're talking about a whole lot of different Als," says former business associate Bob Ellis.

On one count, however, everyone but Johnson is in complete agreement: He has an enormous capacity to make people angry at him. He's sued more than a dozen public officials, including Governor George W. Bush and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. On the Web site of his organization, Texans For Justice, he lists District Attorney Johnny Holmes as "the most corrupt official of Harris County." Of the judges who have ruled in his cases, Johnson says, "Every judge I've been involved with in Harris County is a criminal."

Many of those people now openly advocate to get Johnson out of the picture, preferably in prison. Foremost is lawyer Tom Fillion, who has frequently clashed with Johnson in court and who tops the Web site list of "the Dirty Dozen: the most corrupt attorneys in Harris County." Since 1993, when Johnson was first incarcerated for not paying his child support, Fillion helped jail him on three other occasions, once for 18 months.

And he's got plenty of help — along with several of Johnson's former friends and partners, Fillion has been working with the DA's Office to bring the latest charge for perjury. Though its origins may never be resolved, Johnson's conspiracy theory has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. "I want to hang him," Fillion says.

"Al's his own worst enemy," says one of his many former lawyers, who insists on anonymity for fear of being sued. "He just doesn't know when to quit.


"Poring over documents in the well-appointed living room of her West U townhouse, Shelby Ranly spoons another mouthful of Slim Fast out of a Stop N Go mug. With the cultivated manner of someone used to dealing with help, she occasionally issues an an amiable but firm order to one of the steady stream of workers passing through. Her clothes and penciled eyebrows a matching shade of bronze, Ranly seems suited to her current preoccupation, developing her townhouse complex that she likes to say has a value of $3 million.

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2 comments
islanderpilot50
islanderpilot50

al johnson has been mobilizing people in the Philippines representing to be the CEO of Quantum International. He has been and still is soliciting memoranda of agreement with various Local Government Units by promising to finance the construction of a $450 million project for the construction of a plasma plant. He first secured an agreement with a city mayor in the southern part of the country back in 1998. Until now, al was never heard of by the Mayor. It did not stop there because under the same modus, he was able to secure several memoranda from different Mayors in various parts of the Philippines. IS THIS GUY FOR REAL???? OR FOR REEL??

islanderpilot50
islanderpilot50

al johnson has been mobilizing people in the Philippines representing to be the CEO of Quantum International. He has been and still is soliciting memoranda of agreement with various Local Government Units by promising to finance the construction of a $450 million project for the construction of a plasma plant. He first secured an agreement with a city mayor in the southern part of the country back in 1998. Until now, al was never heard of by the Mayor. It did not stop ther because under the same modus, he was able to secure several memoranda from different Mayors in various parts of the Philippines. IS THIS GUY FOR REAL???? OR FOR REEL??

 
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