A co-founder of Irish-American street gang FAIM was found guilty of murder this week in a complex case involving bribery, police corruption, conspiracy to murder a defense attorney, and even claims that the accused attempted to set a fellow inmate on fire.
It took 12 years, a mistrial, and two grand jury indictments before the trial of Coby Phillips could even begin in September 2016, following the Irish-American’s 2005 arrest for federal drug crimes.
Phillips was well-known to police authorities in the Contra Costa and Solano counties area in California, having established the Family Affiliated Irish Mafia street gang, otherwise known as FAIM, along with three others in the mid 1990s. In 2005 he was charged and later convicted of federal drug crimes.
This week, Phillips, 42, was found guilty of the 2004 murder of drug dealer Daryl Grockett, conspiracy to murder the attorney of an informant testifying against him, attempts to convince former gang members not to testify, and the possession of shanks (crude knives) in his jail cell in Contra Costa. He is expected to receive a life sentence for the crimes, according to the prosecutor Tom Kensock.
Phillips did not act alone in the murder, however, which is believed to have been a result of a dispute over drug debts. His co-conspirator Jose Vega-Robles, a member of the Sinaloa Cartel, was given a life sentence for the killing in 2003, but a mistrial was called in the case against Phillips in 2013, causing a further delay in his conviction.
Murder trial of Family Affiliated Irish Mafia founder Coby Phillips reaches verdict https://t.co/hLe6qVzNe0— Matthias Gafni (@mgafni) November 14, 2016
Vega-Robles' brother, Sergio Vega-Robles, also a member of the Sinaloa Cartel, was the main witness to testify against Phillips during the trial, agreeing to speak after the trio and others were indicted in a federal drug-trafficking case in 2005.
Sergio Vega-Robles testified to the part Phillips played in a drug-trafficking ring – distributing methamphetamine in the Bay area throughout the 2000s – and also claimed Phillips had confessed to having participated in the death of Grockett, along with his brother.
Other witnesses included former members of FAIM or similar white gangs and inmates housed within the same module as Phillips in jail.
It is reported that Phillips had made attempts to warn Vega-Robles off testifying against him, however, hoping to dissuade the cartel member by killing the attorney who had guaranteed him a favorable plea. According to prosecutors, the FAIM founder enlisted the help of inmate Jason Soletti to strangle the attorney during a face-to-face meeting but was unsuccessful.
The prosecutors brought other similar charges of witness intimidation and attempting to set an inmate on fire in previous trials, but all charges were dropped or dismissed. Phillip’s attorney Dan Horowitz had previously claimed: “It reflects more on the failure of the original charges to stick, and they’re grasping at everything to get something to stick.”
After the result, Kensock, the prosecutor, told the East Bay Times, “We worked hard to put together a solid case, and we think that the jury saw that the evidence was there.”
“It has been a long time getting this to this point. … It feels good to have this last step.”
Reacting to his client’s loss, Horowitz claimed it was a “shame” Phillips was found guilty, confirming that an appeal will be filed and that the defense team will be asking for several of the convictions to be thrown out.
“Coby’s innocent of all those charges,” Horowitz said. “It was a very intelligent jury, but I think they saw all those charges put together and figured he must be guilty of all of them.”
“It’s sad because I think Coby would have done great on the outside,” Horowitz continued, stating that his client's reputation for violence had been greatly exaggerated.
“He was ready to settle down and raise a family and start his own business. … I truly believe he’s a good guy.”
Based in the Rodeo-Crockett area of California, FAIM is believed to be mostly composed of self-professed Irish-Americans and became well known for their involvement in distributing methamphetamine in the 2000s. Gang members are easily recognizable by their shamrock tattoos. Phillips has said he is “proud to be Irish” and “very much about my race.”
The gang also has links to other white gangs in the area such as the Aryan Brotherhood. The East Bay Times adds that relations between Phillips and the Brotherhood are tense, however, thanks to the Irish-Americans' refusal to carry out murders on the gang’s behalf some years ago. Phillip’s attorney claims that he and the victim were friends despite this.
Before his trial began, Phillips carried out a jail interview in which he publicly renounced the use of the swastika as a symbol of white supremacy. He is said to have used battery acid while in his jail cell to remove a swastika tattoo at the base of his thumb after reading “Night,” a firsthand account of the Holocaust that made him reconsider his use of the symbol.
Despite not renouncing his belief in “white power,” Phillips said, “I strongly discourage my younger guys from getting (swastikas).”
“I don’t care if they want to put ‘white power’ on their forehead, but no more swastikas,” he said, claiming he knew nothing of Nazi Germany’s history before branding his body with the mark, not once, but four times.
It seems that the "Irish slaves" myth is also popular with members of the Family Affiliated Irish Mafia (FAIM) pic.twitter.com/Y2tRYE4vfF— Liam Hogan (@Limerick1914) June 30, 2015
Horowitz has described the members of FAIM as “white working-class,” even recently comparing them to the supporters of president-elect Donald Trump.
“It’s the reason Donald Trump is so popular; it’s the idea that society has passed them by,” Horowitz said.
“That’s really what led to this genesis of this white pride. And then you put them in the prisons, and they started this white pride thing, and they looked for the symbols of it, whatever they were.”
Although he declined to say much about the case during the pre-trial interview on advice from his attorney, Phillips believed he would be acquitted and he planned to leave the Bay Area on his release and start up a business.
“Definitely, I’ve got to be legit. I’ve got no choice,” Phillips said. “My kids are getting older, and it’s time to do something. If it ain’t now, it never will be.”
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