Joel Cleve Miller of Hemet, California, a Marine combat veteran and a founder of the Phantom Fury Motorcycle Club, was released from prison after posting a $50,000 bond on December 26. He had been sentenced to serve two years and had been in prison for nine months.
The Phantom Fury MC is named for the Second Battle of Fallujah in November and December 2004. The battle was officially known as Operation Phantom Fury. Miller, a twenty-year veteran of the Marine Corps was a veteran of that battle. He was discharged from the Marines for bad conduct in 2011 after Naval investigators alleged he had fabricated $16,000 in travel expenses.
The Phantom Fury wear red and white. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report released at the time of Miller’s trial linked the Phantom Fury and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs. Miller was arrested by the ATF.
Miller was convicted in 2012 of smuggling a chrome plated AK-47 home from Iraq in 2005. The weapon was seized after a search of Miller’s home in 2007. Miller claimed the gun belonged to another Marine named Christopher Bruce.
According to Miller, Bruce asked him to keep a bag of guns in 2005 when Bruce was having marital problems. Miller said he returned the bag to Bruce but the bag wound up back in Miller’s home again in 2007 after he moved into the barracks at Camp Pendleton. Bruce then began an affair with Miller’s wife, Melissa. Adultery is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Joel Miller threatened to report the affair to his commanders. So, Melissa Miller then called the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and told them the gun was her ex-husband’s. Melissa Miller told NCIS officers that she had filed for divorce and wanted the guns removed from her home because she thought they presented a danger to her children.
The Department of Justice would later state that the chrome AK-47 was discovered as part of a larger investigation into the sale and distribution of automatic weapons in the United States.
After Miller’s conviction, an NCIS supervisor named Albert Nelson claimed, “This case sends a strong message that we will continue to investigate those who illegally possess and distribute dangerous weapons such as machine guns. We will continue our efforts to remove these weapons from the streets where they put innocent lives at risk.”
But at his trial, Miller was unable to question his ex-wife or ex-friend about the ownership of the rifle or about their affair. Both Christopher Bruce and Melissa Miller refused to testify because their testimony might incriminate them and the presiding judge refused to grant them limited immunity.
Joel Miller appealed his conviction and last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his inability to question Bruce and his ex-wife unfairly limited his defense. “The district court abused its discretion by precluding (Joel) Miller from calling two witnesses to testify about their alleged extramarital affair,” the Ninth Circuit found. “Their testimony about the affair would have corroborated Miller’s testimony and bolstered his defense that he was framed in retaliation for threatening to report the alleged affair to military authorities.”
Federal prosecutors have not yet announced if they will retry Joel Miller or drop the case.