Criminal charges filed in 3-year-old financial scandal that rocked San Pedro museum ship
A financial scandal that brought turmoil to the S.S. Lane Victory, a museum ship in San Pedro, has resulted in criminal charges being filed against the ship’s former treasurer. Photo by Steve McCrank/Staff Photographer
Criminal charges have been filed against a former S.S. Lane Victory treasurer — who was also the newlywed wife of the then-executive director — in a 2015 financial scandal that rocked the museum ship in San Pedro.
Christal L. Dunn of Lakewood is charged with one count of grand theft for allegedly transferring $20,000 from the ship’s funds to her personal account on Aug. 4, 2015. Dunn, who was arrested March 21 and released on bail, has pleaded not guilty.
Although her next court appearance is set for April 30, the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Scott McPheron, said Friday that discussions continue in an effort to avoid trial and resolve the case with a restitution order.
Dunn’s husband, Greg Williams, the ship’s former executive director, has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing and earlier settled a civil lawsuit filed in 2016 by the United States Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II Inc. that named both him and his wife. The lawsuit remains in place but the case now is only against Dunn, said attorney Mark VanBuskirk.
A friend of Williams’ and department head on the ship — who asked that his name not be used due to the pending litigation — said Williams was “the biggest victim” in the ordeal and was taken in by Dunn, a senior loan officer by profession. Williams declined to comment on the charges against Dunn but said the news articles about the events “destroyed an (his) honest 40-year career and reputation.”
Williams and Dunn had only been married a couple months when the crisis erupted in September 2015. A crew from Walashek Industrial & Marine Inc. in La Jolla walked off the ship, which is anchored at 3600 Miner St. in San Pedro’s Outer Harbor, citing nonpayment for their work to replace the ship’s boiler tubes.
Five months earlier, the World War II ship’s board of directors was told it finally had enough money — $750,000 — to pay for the long-delayed project, work that was necessary for the ship to resume its popular fundraising day cruises.
The money, board members were told, was coming from a multimillion-dollar family inheritance and trust to which Dunn claimed she was a co-heir. But the trust never materialized and eventually was found to be nonexistent, according to sources close to the case.
When the financial problems began, suspicion fell largely on Williams, who also believed that the money existed, his friend said.
Williams adamantly denied any wrongdoing in October 2015 when he and Dunn tendered their resignations “as a matter of honor,” he said at the time, fully expecting to be exonerated and reinstated following an internal investigation.
Williams told the Daily Breeze in 2015 that he and Dunn were cashing out personal assets in an attempt to make good on the trust fund money that he believed at the time had just been delayed.
A former merchant mariner from the 1970s, Williams had been a ship volunteer since 2011 and was hired as the executive director in 2013.
The turmoil resulted in a period of “chaos,” one ship volunteer said at the time, as several volunteers left the 445-foot cargo vessel that was salvaged by World War II veterans and has been a fixture on San Pedro’s waterfront for years. The national historic landmark was built at San Pedro’s now-defunct California Shipyards in 1945.
“It was a disaster, I can’t express that enough,” said Ron Phelps, the current treasurer for the S.S. Lane Victory.
Finances spiraled and the ship at one time was “in the hole” for more than $100,000, he said.
Since then, the board of directors has worked to regroup and appears to have turned a corner, according to Phelps.
“We’ve continued looking at grants to get the boilers repaired,” he said, adding that getting the ship seaworthy is key to the vessel’s future. “We decided this year to spend some money on marketing so we’ve redone the website.
Expenses also have been cut, Phelps said, and some money is coming in with film shoots.
“Right now, we have a dedicated group of people who love the ship,” he said. “We’re trying to weigh what we can do and what we’d like to do. … Once bit, twice shy.”
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