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The Convoluted Predicament of David McDonald

As the perplexing criminal case against him heads towards a trial in August, former downtown shopkeeper struggles to unload a mountain of inventory so he can post bail and end his three-month stint in jail.

“Things are not what they seem. They never have been.”

David McDonald wrote those words on a piece of paper and pressed it up against the glass in a visitor’s room at the Marin County Jail on a recent afternoon.

He was speaking to the Mill Valley community, particularly to his fellow business owners downtown, where his novelty gift and adult video shop has resided for more than 48 years. He hoped they hadn’t lost faith in him, despite his on a that shocked many who have known the 70-year-old merchant for years.

But while McDonald’s words focused on those charges, they were illuminating about nearly every aspect of his current predicament. Everything is not exactly as it seems, and it’s all complicated.

In addition to the very serious criminal charges facing him, there are also a number of personal challenges for a 70-year-old man three months into his first stint in jail, having lost 30 pounds because he can’t get the vegetarian diet he’s eaten for more than 40 years.

McDonald’s hasn’t been able to post bail because he has no liquid assets (he said it was all seized in the raid). But he owns a home in Fairfax and has an overwhelming amount of inventory – jewelry, figurines, an assortment of media, among others - in his shop, his home, the apartment he rents in Fairfax and multiple storage units. His requests to put up his house as equity for a bond on his $50,000 bail have been denied because of questions about the home's condition and appraised value.

McDonald’s landlord for his shop at 74 Throckmorton Ave., former Pacific Sun publisher , evicted him at the end of March for failure to pay rent. McNamara issued a final notice of eviction Tuesday, and has “graciously given him 30 days to get his stuff out,” according to Melvin Caesar Belli, an attorney and friend of McDonald’s who is helping him sort out the mess.

“The business is obviously finished at that location,” said Belli, the son of legendary lawyer Melvin Belli. “Hopefully we have enough time to get all of his stuff out of the store. It’s going to be a lot of work and obviously David’s not around to supervise.”

While the eviction and the need to raise some cash to get out of jail are pressing matters, the criminal charges facing McDonald are far more severe. He had a preliminary hearing Wednesday before Marin Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson, who sent the case forward with an arraignment set for July 19 and a trial in August.

The charges against McDonald spawned from a on March 23 by a slew of law enforcement agencies after he allegedly sold nearly one pound of a substance purported to be methamphetamine and approximately three pounds of a substance purported to be ephedrine, a precursor to meth used in its production, to an undercover agent.

Again, not exactly.

What were once eight felony charges centered on the possession and intent to sell illegal drugs have been whittled down to three, largely because all of the substances McDonald allegedly sold to an undercover agent tested negative for what they were purported to be, according to testimony Wednesday.

The substance purported to be ephedrine did test positive for some smaller amounts of Phenylpropanolamine, another known meth precursor, according to Scot Barr, a special agent with West Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team (West-Net), a multi-agency narcotic task force that includes officers from seven East Bay agencies and is managed by the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.

McDonald faces two felony counts of possession of Phenylpropanolamine with intent to sell it knowing that it would then be used to manufacture methamphetamine. He faces another felony count of selling a substance in lieu of a controlled substance, in this case a powder that wasn’t the meth he allegedly intended to sell.

Barr’s agency was led to McDonald by a confidential informant who said he’d purchased ephedrine from him, according to Anthony Souza, another West-Net special agent. Souza said he made a series of visits to the Pleasure Principle over the course of one month, each time either purchasing the purported substances or negotiating the next transaction.

Souza said he met with McDonald the day before the raid, arranging to buy one pound of methamphetamine and eight pounds of ephedrine for a total of $28,000. Souza said they never used those words aloud except for Souza’s one-time reference to “crank,” a slang for meth, and a brief discussion of the heating process of converting ephedrine to methamphetamine.

McDonald preferred written communication, Souza said. They referred to a pound of the ephedrine as a “whole one” and a pound of meth as a “whole one of the special one.” Souza said McDonald wrote “ephedrine” on a piece of paper and an “M” to indicate meth, but that he crossed out the “M” and tore off the part of the page containing “ephedrine” when Souza asked if he could take the paper.

Although McDonald said he “came up a little shy” of the agreed upon amount of substances for the March 23 deal, according to Souza, the pair went ahead with it. Before they completed the deal, Souza said he had to go get the money, and he returned with a team of agents and police officers and took McDonald into custody.

McDonald didn’t testify at the preliminary hearing, but he denied the charges in an interview.

“I never sold anything illegal or in the wrong way,” he said, characterizing the substance as a “generic unclassifiable, innocuous white substance which I had not thought of marketing for years but was looking at the possibility of having to get rid of it because I was losing the store.”

Haakenson allowed the charges to proceed, saying he wasn’t dissuaded by the lack of direct reference to ephedrine or methamphetamine.

“Most savvy drug dealers don’t say the names of the controlled substances they are selling,” he said.

But although Barr’s preliminary tests on the seized substances indicated they were indeed ephedrine and meth, subsequent tests at crime labs proved McDonald wasn’t actually selling the illegal drugs agents thought they were buying – just pretending to do so.

“He’d probably done something a little weird,” Belli said. “But that’s David. He’s weird. He’s one of the few oddballs left that make Marin what it used to be. But he ain’t a drug dealer.”

Haakenson agreed to revisit the issue of keeping McDonald in custody at the July 19 hearing. He to be released on his own recognizance.

Because he doesn’t have any access to money, McDonald is being represented by Camille Bosworth from the county public defender’s office. But because of his home ownership, Haakenson said he’d like schedule a hearing after the trial “to see if you should reimburse the county - you might end up having to pay a legal bill after all.”

Alan Chu, a longtime family friend who is retrieving much of McDonald’s stuff for him and helping him figure out what to do with the mountain of stuff that might ultimately help him raise some money, said he doesn’t buy the charges against McDonald.

“It’s totally contradictory to David’s way of life,” he said.

McDonald said the handful of friends that are helping him through his ordeal “have been incredible people to me.” He said getting out of jail will allow him to prepare for the trial and deal with the swarm of logistical hurdles he faces in getting himself and his business back on its feet.

“Please don’t lose faith in me,” he said.

Maya Durie June 30, 2011 at 04:56 PM
clarification: a yard sale of David's store items that he has for sale to raise his bail.
jacky orrick July 03, 2011 at 02:44 AM
Come on Mill Valley, save Dave!! He's a little different but he's a kind and gentle guy. I'd help if I was there. Unfortunately I moved to Pittsburgh and can't help him. Don't let him starve in jail. He's a health nut not a criminal!
Lisa July 06, 2011 at 07:55 PM
If "things are not as what they seem" how do you explain selling a POUND of methamphetamine (or whatever it was-does it really matter?). $28,000 for a bag of anything doesn't sound legit to me. Dealing drugs is not the best way to solve your cash flow problems. And WHY should the city of Mill Valley rally around this clown? What has he done for Mill Valley besides squat in his prime downtown location selling drugs and porn for 40 years? I feel sorry for Steve McNamara, the owner of the building. I guess he should consider himself fortunate that he didn't blow up the building with a meth lab. Hopefully, justice will prevail.
Michael Banks July 07, 2011 at 10:07 PM
Lisa: your comment reflects a certain kind of narrow minded puritanism that seems to have crept in to our populace in recent years. Your response is the kind of comment that makes me want to start peddling acid and blow cigarette smoke in your face. I'm only joking Lisa, but I'm sure most people will get what I mean. I was shocked enough when the owners of the old Sweetwater demonstrated zero care for our commmunity by not funding the renewal of that venerable local treasure. Being a wealthy lanlord certainly doesn't automatically connote a generous spirit. The point is, Lisa, David has given a 'pleasurable' service to many people over the years. If he ever opens up again you may want to sample one of his videos or buy one of his recreational pipes.
Jody Stickney July 08, 2011 at 03:21 AM
I just found out David has been out for a few days, he is at his shop finally! I am so happy for him, he sounds great!
Jody Stickney July 08, 2011 at 06:10 AM
To Michael Banks..Well Said!
Jody Stickney July 08, 2011 at 06:12 AM
Who are you and how long have you lived in Mill Valley..I think it's time for you to move.
Jody Stickney July 08, 2011 at 06:12 AM
I so agree!
dave July 08, 2011 at 09:39 PM
I've been in Mill Valley for 10 years (how long I've been here seems to be a criterion for whether my comments are taken seriously). If he wants to run a head shop/porn store, I certainly don't mind, and I agree that Mill valley has a bit too much in the way of bourgeois dress stores. That said, this article seems to clearly state that he was trying to at least pretend he was selling Meth, although it isn't clear what he was actually selling. Do people really believe that one has to be a puritan to think that passing something off as Meth and selling it for 28,000 is fine? I'm all for having lots of off beat stores, but lets be a bit realistic. I think we can "give him support" by making sure he is fed in jail and tried fairly without condoning this. While I can understand where M Banks comments are coming from, his comment is a bit immature and inappropriate.
Michael Banks July 09, 2011 at 06:17 AM
Dave: Maybe I failed to communicate clearly. I'm not condoning illegal activity. What I was railing at was a narrow minded viewpoint that is quick to judge someone who has sold "drugs and porn" for 40 years (McDonald has sold porn but drugs??!!) and thinks he is a clown and done nothing for Mill Valley. He sold much more than porn vids and pipes - jewellery and so on - and was viewed with much more affection by locals than many local store owners. Most important he represented the free spirited nature of rebellion against the boring norm. The latter will be the death of Mill Valley if we're not careful.
Jody Stickney July 10, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Innocent until proven guilty.
monty gallantry July 13, 2011 at 10:06 PM
I do not see reference to the charges purported earlier after the Raid that David had loaded guns in the shop. Is it true that these were antiques left over from when his father had a jewelry store at this location? These charges all seem trumped up to me and I would not be surprised if the landlord may have been part of the "tip" to the police that his tenant that was not making timely rent payments was doing something illegal!!
Jim Welte July 13, 2011 at 10:56 PM
Hi Monty - yes you are correct that the gun charges were dropped over the past few months. The guns were described as dusty relics.
lucinda ray July 15, 2011 at 01:33 PM
YEAAA!!!I thought I saw him on the way to mill valley market!! I almost ran over a woman in 4 inch designer Louboutin high heels ( could have been Lisa!) sorry Lisa - but you are way off- Dave has been here for many many years- . You would think that he would have been a danger by now- maybe on his 80th birthday? Dave also sells jewelry- I bought my first earrings at age 16 there- Whenever I would see Dave around Mill Valley - I would have a sigh of relief-" Thank God ! Dave is still here- maybe Mill Valley will be OK- " Having lived in Mill Valley most of my life I have seen many changes- to the point that this could be Marin's Beverly Hills. Dave represents alot of good that still is in Mill Valley- People struggle to stay here- I know I have. DAVE IS NOT A DANGER TO MILL VALLEY- and people are innocent until proven guilty- I have not lost faith in Dave. He needs help- Thank you Jody- And Michael Banks, Denise, Jacky, Maya-- Hey ! we are the majority here....- Dave McDonald in jail is just plain immoral- and that is from the heart.
lucinda ray July 15, 2011 at 02:16 PM
REF: Dave ( the bad Dave) Do you think former Commander Wielsch of Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement , one of four POLICE men charged currently by the FBI - are innocent until proven guilty? who where until this last Feb.2011 from the same agency ( one of) that raided Dave McDonalds' store... Based on what the charges are ? THEY have 38 COUNTS: Alleged drunk driving set-ups, sale of CONFISCATED drugs and the OPERATION of a Brothel.. they are ( and have been) out on State Bail- ) their trial in FED court is set for October of this year- but hey - how could Police do this?? Really- they make Dave look like Mary Poppins- but maybe I am being "Immature and INAPPROPRIATE!
Jody Stickney July 15, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Lisa..grrr. David is not a clown, David has not been just squatting for 40 years. You are so uninformed, look at the people supporting Dave, are we all druggies? Look at yourself...snob!
Jody Stickney July 15, 2011 at 05:55 PM
You can phone Dave at his original number, you can go to the shop and visit with him, you can even buy things, and you can help him clean out the shop. His van is also there. There is a contribution site also.. Dave won't be staying and with the loss of him and John Goddard of Village Music, (Yes I know John is still downtown in a smaller location with limited hours but it isn't the same) makes this town a much more boring place.
Jody Stickney July 15, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Lucinda, I have no idea what 4 inch designer Louboutin high heels look like...although I think they may have stood out like 2 sore thumbs. We bought our wedding rings from Dave over 40 years ago and have bought so many other gifts and treasures in that shop. I used to go in just to talk to Dave and Nancy and once I even got nibbled by their pet Boris...more recently I went in and Dave had a pigeon on his hand, another followed me into the shop, the birds were another bone of contention for people but not for others...how this town has changed...sigh
Jody Stickney July 15, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Lucinda! Wow, interesting stuff about those cops!
dave July 15, 2011 at 06:54 PM
--> lucinda ray I'm not sure if I follow your comment entirely, but my understanding of it is as follows: Recently, a commissioner who works for the same agency as the one that raided David M's store has been charged with illegal activities, including set-ups. This person's crimes are worse than Dave McDonalds. Therefore, ..... what exactly? Therefore he didn't do these things? Therefore all police activities are illegitimate? I understand that there should always be a level of skepticism when someone is accused of a crime. That said, the comments here seem to go beyond that. It seems that the main reason people feel that the charges seem "trumped up" is that they like Dave M. All I said is that one can like him without justifying the alleged activities. My saying that MB's comment was inappropriate was referring to the fact that the previous person voicing their opinion was effectively told that they just need to get get stoned and f---ed (see "...may want to sample one of his videos or buy one of his recreational pipes."). I think this is the post that you considered "well said".
lucinda ray July 15, 2011 at 07:42 PM
Dave-There are four defendants, including the Commander. And yes, I consider the charges very serious . Police that betray the people they serve and are found guilty of such deserve the full extent of legal punishment.. I do believe ( my opinion )the charges they are facing are much more serious. And the FBI must think they are serious since they have taken over the prosecution.. I am just stating a rather strange coincidence in regards to Dave's plight and Contra Costa County Drug Enforcement activities... why the dramatic raid? Something is way off in this whole prosecution of Dave. I never said all police activities are illegitimate. But police are people too- good ones and bad ones... Dave McDonald is a good guy- and maybe those defendants in Contra Costa are innocent- In our current legal system,however,- it usually goes well for those with the most power and influence. I did not comment: "well said" - but I completely understand the feeling- Dave represents all of us who want to celebrate being individuals who march to a different drummer- and this jumping to conclusions based on someone's appearance or store that does not BLEND in with other stores in Mill Valley is wrong. ( and by the way- his store did blend in nicely at one time long ago.) I believe that the over-blown arrest of Dave is a tad suspicious in itself. Thank you Jody for info on how to assist.
Jody Stickney August 01, 2011 at 03:07 AM
Sigh, today was the last day Dave had to finish clearing out his shop. I have stopped by several times to visit. He seems to be in good spirits. The shop still hasn't been cleared, I saw a large moving van there this afternoon parked next to Dave's van, don't know if the two are connected. With the closing of the store I don't know where he will be, don't know if I'll ever see him again. What a very sad day.
Jody Stickney August 01, 2011 at 03:11 AM
When I was there last week I saw an address/url for Dave, damned if I can remember what it said..does anyone know...
jacky orrick August 06, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Back in 2003 I was facing thyroid surgery and was talking to dave about it at the market. He was telling me about his belief in herbal remedies and how uneccesary most surgeries are if we take care of ourselves naturally. He left the store and came back an hour or so later with a hand written herbal recipe specifically designed for treating thyroid problems. Drug dealer??!! I was touched that he showed interest in helping me. I don't care what anyone says or thinks about him, I like him and his odd ways and wish more people had his heart. This whole thing reminds me of the relentless persecution of my "hippie vet" Dr Chuck Galvin who was ultimately destroyed by narrow minded SOB's with an agenda! Good luck Dave and thanks to everyone supporting him.
Jody Stickney August 06, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Jacky, what an excellent memory of David, that's him exactly, thanks!
Jody Stickney August 06, 2011 at 03:41 PM
David's store is empty.
lucinda ray August 06, 2011 at 04:14 PM
I went by to check out that address Jody mentioned,last Tuesday- and they were busy cleaning every last inch of Dave's store..nothing was left to remember Dave. I do hope the media keeps track of his legal problems - they are a huge hurdle for him- but nothing is impossible- just keep on, keeping on and never give up on your dream. Maybe a new place for his store- bigger and better- I am hoping for the best for him and Mill Valley.
Jody Stickney August 06, 2011 at 04:29 PM
I agree and I hope someone keeps track of him, I wish Dave had a computer and a blog!!
Lippy August 01, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Nice to see you're not letting any of those pesky "FACTS" get in the way of your commanding opinions, "Lisa"..
Lippy August 01, 2012 at 12:29 AM
It's NOT ILLEGAL to pretend to sell meth..


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