Williams pleads guilty to theft, drug possession

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2008

Accused crime leader Vonnie Williams pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that he helped steal nearly $20,000 in checks from Taku Smokeries last November by paying the actual thief with crack cocaine.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Williams, 44, also pleaded guilty to possession of "rock cocaine," which police found in his pocket during his arrest on the theft charges. He faces 10 years and $100,000 in fines. Sentencing is scheduled for September.

With his plea, Williams avoided a public jury weeks before a trial for a larger criminal case claiming that Williams, in partnership with Aaron Washington, 41, ran a years-long smuggling operation that used women to smuggle pounds of cocaine into Juneau from Oregon, Washington and New York.

Originally, authorities leveled 14 counts of second-degree theft against Williams for his role in the check theft ring that reached at least 30 homes in addition to Taku Smokeries.

District Attorney Doug Gardner said in addition to organizing the theft, Williams gave a "small amount of crack cocaine" to Heather Schimanski, 32, for stealing and cashing checks. Schimanski used a former Taku Smokeries employee's key to get at the checks.

Police say Williams used the money to foster the larger drug operation that brought drugs in on Alaska Airlines passengers.

Schimanski pleaded guilty to forgery, theft and burglary earlier this year in a deal that yielded a six-year sentence that suspended all but 18 months of prison time and rehab.

For Williams' plea agreement, Gardner combined the theft counts into one and agreed to sentencing guidelines that limit Williams' ability to appeal the eventual sentence.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins said Williams' five previous felonies require her to make the sentence consecutive. If Collins accepts the state's sentencing recommendation, Williams will get five years for each felony with two years suspended on each for a total of six years to serve.

Williams will join others convicted in the scheme in repaying the thousands of stolen dollars.

There was no indication in court that Williams agreed to join others testifying against Washington.

Before the plea proceedings on the theft charges, both Williams' and Washington's attorneys asked Collins to move the trial on charges that both men together ran a "continuing criminal enterprise" to smuggle and sell drugs like cocaine and oxycodone within the city.

Several of the people involved in the ring have agreed to testify in support of the prosecution's 36-count indictment against both men.

With more than 1,500 pages and two-dozen compact discs of evidence collected by investigators, both men's lawyers agreed they needed more time to develop a defense.

"We need to move this trial," Washington's attorney William Carey said.

"I need time to prepare," Williams' attorney, Tom Shultz, said.

Gardner did not oppose rescheduling, saying the evidence was "voluminous." Collins moved the June trial to September 14.

The complicated organized crime case is the first of its kind in Juneau.

Washington on Tuesday sought a delay in a separate trial on drug charges originally set for June 2.

Carey said the delay was not a "strategic" one, but that he and Gardner agreed the separate trial should be postponed. The two cases have some crossover with witnesses and informants, he said.

"It's in everyone's interest," Carey said.

"It's a complicated case that involves a lot of evidence," Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg said.

Pallenberg pushed Washington's solo trial to July 14.

"I'm reluctant to set it off for months and months," he said.

• Contact reporter Greg Skinner at 253-3358 or e-mail greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.

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