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Dave McDonald's Trial on Drug Charges Begins

Deputy District Attorney Sean Kensinger and Defense Attorney Michael Coffino exchanged opening remarks in Marin County Superior Court Monday in a case that is not exactly what it seems on the surface.

Nearly 16 months after a narcotic task force in downtown Mill Valley and , the trial kicked off Monday in Marin County Superior Court.

But contrary to the weeks immediately after that dramatic March 2011 raid, when law enforcement officials thought they'd made a significant drug bust, the three drug-related felony charges facing McDonald have more to do with him selling fake narcotics. That's because the substances McDonald allegedly sold to an undercover agent tested negative for what they were purported to be, namely methamphetamine and ephedrine, a precursor to meth used in its production.

McDonald faces one count of selling a fake narcotic and two counts of possession phenylpropanolamine with intent to sell knowing that it would be used to make meth.

The trial kicked off Monday with opening statements from both Deputy District Attorney Sean Kensinger and attorney Michael Coffino of the Marin County Public Defender's office.

As McDonald, 71, sat quietly next to Coffino, Kensinger began by outlining the background of the case and related sting operation by special agents with West Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team (West-Net), a multi-agency narcotic task force.

The case started when Detective Anthony Souza, an undercover WestNET agent entered McDonald's store and bought two ounces of a "white, powdery substance" that the detective believed to be the illegal drug ephedrine, according to Kensinger. The detective later returned to the Pleasure Principle and discussed purchasing up to 8 pounds of the substance, and $16,000 worth of another substance, which Souza thought to be methamphetamine, said Kensinger.

"On March 23, Detective Souza arrived at the shop and asked if the order was ready ... while the defendant (McDonald) collected the bags of white powder the detective asked, 'is that the crank' and the defendant replied 'that's logical,'" said Kensinger.

One of the substances sold by McDonald contained phenylpropalmine but not ephedrine, which is what the detective believed he was buying, said Kensinger. McDonald delivered the non-illegal substances to Souza's truck in leu of the illegal substances the detective believed he was purchasing, Kensinger said.

Coffino responded that McDonald believed he was talking about something different than what detective Souza was discussing and vice versa. McDonald was selling powdered fillers to dilute cocaine, Coffino said, and the two men had a series of misunderstandings about what the substances really were.

Coffino stated that none of the powders in McDonald's shop were illegal to possess, and that the case is based on inference, not evidence.

"McDonald ran his shop for 48 years and during that time he served the peripheral market for drug users," Coffino said. "This may be an unsavory line of work but it's not illegal."

Coffino closed his remarks by stating that the evidence in the case will demonstrate that McDonald had no knowledge of what the large quantity of powders in his shop contained. 

In October 2011, McDonald unsuccessfully sought to get access to the personnel files of the undercover narcotics agents who arrested him in an effort to cast doubt on their credibility. Because of the negative test results for the substances seized at McDonald's shop, McDonald had hoped to capitalize on past allegations of corruption involving West-Net officers.

Marin County Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson, who is presiding over McDonald's trial, wasn’t swayed and denied the motion.

The trial of McDonald, who  after a three-month stint during which he said he lost more than 30 pounds because he couldn’t get access to a vegetarian meal, is expected to last more than a week. Souza is scheduled to testify Tuesday.

Rico July 24, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Many of us old timers here in Mill Valley knew exactly what David was selling, it was an Italian baby laxative. It came in little packages labeled "Manite", made in Italy. Basically, the product is a form of sugar (manitol). Either there were a lot of constipated babies in Mill Valley, or there were some coke dealers who cut their product with a baby laxative. So, David was not selling any illegal drugs, he was set up by stupid West-Net task force pigs. What a waste of the taxpayers money, and the spending is not over yet. It is sad to see a persons life and business ruined any time, but using the taxpayers money to do it should be a serious crime. Shame on the West Contra Costa Narcotic Enforcement Team, they are worse than the Costra Nosetra.
Harold Clements July 25, 2012 at 07:34 PM
While it may seem that these officers are just doing their job and that it would be good to flush out possible drug dealers, reality tells us that these officers were just plain stupid. Clearly they bought what they thought was illegal drugs and they did not know that they had been hoodwinked by their seller. Now to cover up their embarrassment over their stupidity they must try to salvage the situation and "get" their rival. Last but not least, WTF is the West Contra Costa Narcotic Entrapment Team doing in Mill Valley? I hope they paid their parking fees.
Rico July 26, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Harold, The Contra Costa cops were hood winked by one of their star informants. Obviously, what happened over in tweeker land is a person got caught with a substantial amount of white powder dope. Most likely, over there , it was methamphetamine. So, the informant makes a deal with the stupid cops, and gives up a name of someone else like poor David who is supposedly selling drugs. In exchange, the informant walks away scott free or with a diversion. It was the informant that burned the cops this time, and their big bust in Mill Valley didn't pan out, in fact, it was a downright disgrace to the force. The West-Net task force was made a fool of, and you can be sure that the informant is in a heap of trouble now. The sad thing is, the West-Net task force refuses to admit that they are fools, and continues to burden the taxpayers of Marin county with a court case that has no merit at all. The courts should act wisely and drop all charges against David, and give him back his cut (baby laxative) and all of his $29,000 and firearms. Actually, when all of this is said and done, I think David should sue the West-Net Task force for false accusations, stupidity, false arrest, false incarceration and defamation of character . Mill Valley city officials got what they wanted, to run David out of business and out of town, so they should insist that all charges are dropped.

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