The case against the former director of the Commercial Fishermen’s Festival ended with a guilty verdict Thursday on three of the four counts charged against the defendant.
Ronald Kay Williams, who was director of the Fishermen’s Festival until resigning in September 2011, was found guilty of one count of aggravated theft in the first-degree and one count of theft in the first-degree in Clatsop County Circuit Court with Judge Philip Nelson presiding.
Williams was found not guilty on one of the two counts charged against him for tampering with a witness.
The 12-person jury found that Williams had stolen items belonging to the Fishermen’s Festival and retrieved money from a festival bank account exceeding $10,000. They also found that he had taken a dunk tank belonging to Warrenton Kids Inc. that exceeded $1,000.
Williams and Fishermen’s Festival board members engaged with one another on social media sites and in person leading up to his arrest in March 2012. The jury found that his behavior did not tamper with Elizabeth McMaster, a board member, as a witness, but that it did with her husband, Martin McMaster, another festival board member.
The criminal case against Williams stemmed from his resignation from the Fishermen’s Festival after a compensation disagreement with the board. After leaving the organization, he cleared out the festival’s office, taking with him autographed memorabilia that included the signatures of members of the television show “Deadliest Catch.”
The board received a letter and invoice from Williams in October 2011 indicating that he was owed money. The same amount indicated on the invoice was found to be missing from a festival bank account Sept. 30, 2011.
The Fishermen Festival board then sent Williams a responding letter asking that he return the missing items and the money.
Williams said in closing statements that it was a tragedy the board and he had acted like kids in the dispute, but that the festival didn’t officially own the items, and that they owed him money.
Deputy Clatsop County District Attorney Steven Chamberlin said in closing arguments that it was Williams’ intent to start a new festival with the items and that he had no intention of giving them back.
He said Williams was trying to appear as the victim, but it was he who decided to take the money, memorabilia, dunk tank and threaten the McMasters.
Astoria Police Sgt. Brian Aydt testified Wednesday about executing the search warrant at Williams’ residence in Warrenton, and for his vehicles and the storage unit he rented in Hammond.
Chamberlin asked if the Fishermen’s Festival board had contacted Williams to get the items back.
“They told me they contacted Mr. Williams,” Aydt said.
Inside the storage unit, Aydt and Astoria Police officers found approximately 100 cases of water and soda, festival signs and old survivor suits.
“We took two pick-up truck loads out of that storage unit,” said Aydt.
In William’s living room, they found a framed fisherman cutout with a dozen or more autographs from people involved in the festival and members of “Deadliest Catch,” Aydt said.
Aydt said Williams told him, “All they (festival board) had to do was call him to get the stuff back.”
Williams was seen hauling the dunk tank belonging to Warrenton Kids Inc. by Martin McMaster, who reported it to Astoria Police. The police were directed to a scrap yard in Miles Crossing where Williams was having the top cut off.
When asked by police who owned the tank, Williams said it had ended up with him and the tank was his.
Mindy Little, president of the nonprofit, testified that she had loaned the tank to Williams for Fishermen’s Festival purposes. She said part of the arrangement was for Williams to have it refurbished while out on loan.
“As soon as he got it, I hadn’t seen it after that,” she said.
Little said that Williams called her after scrapping the top and said he thought she gave it to him. She testified that he asked her for a backdated letter indicating he owned the tank, which she denied him.
“It would be between $3,000 and $4,000 to replace one,” Little said.
“When was the last time your organization used that dunk tank?” Williams asked during cross-examination.
Little said it had been used at a Fourth of July event prior to loaning it to the festival. Williams questioned her about the condition of the tank and she said it did have some rust on it.
Johnathan Hillstrand, a fisherman captain on “Deadliest Catch,” testified over the phone that he signed items for the Fishermen’s Festival, and if he signed them for someone else, he would put their name on it.
“I thought everything I signed was for the festival,” he said, about the multiple items he signed in the festival’s office.
After the warrants had been served, Chamberlin said, in closing arguments, Williams confronted Martin McMaster at the Port of Astoria Mooring Basin and told him that he should have his wife shut up or he would burn their house down.
“They were genuinely afraid of this man,” said Chamberlin. “His intent was to shut them up so they wouldn’t talk.”
Williams will be sentenced at a Tuesday hearing at the Clatsop County Courthouse.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.