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Fort Worth inmate convicted in murder-for-hire plot against federal judge

A 72-year-old Fort Worth man facing tax violation charges last year was convicted on Wednesday of attempting to hire a hit man for $100,000 to kill a federal judge who was going to hear the case, federal officials said.

Phillip Monroe Ballard tried to hire a hit man to kill U.S. District Judge John McBryde in September 2012 because he feared the judge would hand down a harsh sentence against him, officials said.

A federal jury convicted Ballard of the charge after less than an hour of deliberation.

Ballard will be sentenced on March 17. He faces a maximum of 20 years in a federal prison and a $250,000 fine. He is currently in federal custody.

A federal inmate and an FBI agent posing as the hit man thwarted the plot in September 2012, federal officials said in a news release.

At that time, Ballard was scheduled to go on trial on charges of false tax returns and corrupt interference with Internal Revenue Service laws.

The plan called for the “killer” to position himself within the Burnett Plaza Building, across from the federal courthouse in Fort Worth, arm himself with a high-powered rifle with a scope and shoot McBryde as he entered the courthouse, according to a federal criminal complaint. If that plan didn’t work, Ballard wanted the killer to plant a bomb in the judge’s vehicle.

If he was found guilty in the tax case, Ballard believed that McBryde would sentence him to a maximum 20 years in prison, federal agents said in the complaint.

Federal agents were tipped off to the plot on Sept. 12, 2012, by an inmate.

The inmate told federal authorities that he was in a day room with Ballard, who claimed to be a sovereign citizen and was therefore immune from all laws of the United States.

During the conversation, Ballard said he wanted McBryde killed and would pay $100,000, according to the complaint. In an effort to get Ballard to reveal more about his plan, the inmate told Ballard he knew someone who could do it, federal agents said in the complaint.

Later that day, Ballard asked the inmate to be his cellmate and continued to discuss plans to kill McBryde, federal agents said.

Ballard reiterated that he had the money and he would have his sister send it, according to the complaint.

Federal agents met with the inmate on Sept. 17, 2012. He told the agents that Ballard had handed him a handwritten map of the federal courthouse and the Burnett Plaza Building.

On Sept. 26, 2012, the inmate gave Ballard a handwritten letter drafted by an FBI agent posing as the killer, the complaint stated. The letter, which included how to contact the hit man, stated the work would be completed upon receipt of $5,000. Later that day, Ballard called the undercover FBI agent four times and told him that he would be sending the money, according to the complaint.

The next day, Ballard sent an email message to his sister directing her to send the $5,000 to an Oklahoma address that had been provided by the undercover FBI agent.

This report includes information from Star-Telegram archives.