SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has rejected two Concord-area convicted meth traffickers’ bid for either a new trial or more lenient sentences, court records show.
Concord resident Donnie Phillips, 67, and Clayton resident Gordon Miller, 63, were sentenced to 25 and 20 years, respectively, for methamphetamine distribution in 2018, in a case where prosecutors described Phillips as a middleman and Miller as a higher-up in a large-scale meth trafficking ring. The charges stemmed from a 2015 undercover investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
A third defendant, Phyllis Mosher, agreed to plead guilty to a meth sales charge and accepted 15 years in prison before their trial. She admitted to selling methamphetamine that she’d acquired from Phillips directly to an undercover agent, court records show.
Phillips and Miller offered different arguments in their appeals: Miller, who was acquitted of two counts, argued that jurors were prejudiced by pictures of Hells Angels memorabilia allegedly found in his possession, and that there was insufficient evidence tying him to the drug ring. Phillips contended that he was a victim of third-party entrapment, and that Mosher had acted as an “unwilling” government agent who was manipulated by the DEA into pressuring him for methamphetamine.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Phillips’ arguments on the grounds that “targeting a defendant through an ‘unwitting agent’ does not constitute forbidden inducement if the agent was not then cooperating with the government.” Judges also found there was plenty of evidence tying Miller to the drug ring — like Mosher telling the undercover agent that her supplier’s partner was in Hayward on a day that Miller was purchasing a car there — and that his attorneys failed to establish that the Hells Angels imagery affected the jury’s verdict.
Mosher, Phillips, and Miller were indicted on meth distribution charges in 2015, after the undercover agent bought large amounts of methamphetamine from Mosher on several occasions. The sales were done at various locations around the Bay Area, including a Vallejo bar where Mosher worked and a nearby church.
During trial, Phillips’ attorney, Tony Serra, wasn’t allowed to use the defense he’d planned on: that Phillips, “desperate” to help pay for his son’s legal defense in a pending murder case, had been entrapped. At his sentencing, Phillips said when Mosher asked him for drugs, he told her things like “get lost” and “you bumped your head” before eventually relenting.
“I can’t blame anybody, I made the choice,” Phillips said at his 2018 sentencing. “It was the wrong choice. … All I can do is move forward, and try to be a better person.”
Meth ring with long-established gang ties
The yearlong investigation frequently turned up all three defendants’ ties to gangs and notorious figures in Contra Costa’s underworld.
Authorities contended that Donnie Phillips had taken over as the head of a massive methamphetamine business that opened up in 2008 when his son, Coby Phillips, was indicted on murder charges in the 2004 killing of Darrell Grokett, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Prosecutors alleged Coby Phillips — a co-founder of an AB-affiliated gang known as the Family Affiliated Irish Mafia, or FAIM — murdered Grokett either over a dispute stemming from Phillips’ failure to murder witnesses for the AB, or because of Grokett’s alleged plans to rob Phillips’ Sinaloa Cartel-connected drug suppliers, two brothers named Sergio and Jose Vega-Robles.
Grokett’s bullet-riddled body was discovered at a turnout in the Crockett hills in 2004, where he drove in a pickup truck registered to Mosher, apparently to meet Coby Phillips, Jose Vega-Robles, and his cousin, Josue Lomeli, who is still a fugitive. Phillips and Jose Vega-Robles were convicted of murdering Grokett and sentenced to life, while Sergio Vega-Robles became a state’s witness. Sergio was also prosecuted federally for cocaine and meth trafficking, alongside the Coby and Donnie Phillips, in 2005.
In 2007, Mosher was working as a bartender at the My Office Bar in Vallejo at the time a FAIM member, Joseph Verducci, shot and killed an innocent bystander in a botched attempted murder of a FAIM co-founder who’d fallen out of favor with the gang. Eight years later, Mosher met with the undercover DEA agent at the same bar to sell him methamphetamine.
Miller, meanwhile, was listed as a resident of a remote Mt. Diablo-adjacent property on 7000 Morgan Territory Road in Clayton that has turned up repeatedly during the DEA’s attempts to root out meth trafficking in a county that’s infamous for it. The property was once owned by Kenneth Owen, a Hells Angels member who was sentenced to 41 years and fined $2 million for meth trafficking in 1988.
In 1995, federal agents descended onto the property with a search warrant and discovered “a very large clandestine methamphetamine laboratory” that authorities said at the time was capable of producing $1 million worth of meth per day. It belonged to a major meth cook who was dubbed Contra Costa’s “Julia Child of Meth” and was murdered in rural Sacramento County that year.
According to a DEA agent’s sworn statement in court, Donnie Phillips was a registered owner of the property at the time.