By Stefanie Donahue
Deming resident James Patrick Kelly, 51, pleaded guilty last month to third degree theft and malicious mischief charges in connection with the theft of crab pots used to build a Christmas tree at Blaine Marine Park last November, said Blaine Municipal Court clerk Tracy Kruse.
Represented by Sharon Westergreen, the city’s public defender, Kelly entered the guilty plea on February 7 during a pretrial hearing, Kruse said. Judge Michael Bobbink ordered that Kelly pay an $883 fine or do community service, which deducts $11.50 from the fine per hour completed.
Kelly was arrested on November 17 last year after bystanders witnessed him dismantling and attempting to drive away with crab pots that had been used to build a Christmas tree at Blaine Marine Park. Volunteers spent several hours constructing the tree as part of the city’s Holiday Harbor Lights festival. The night prior, approximately 70 crab pots had been stolen at the site.
In a police report filed by responding Blaine Police Department officer Jake Farrer, Kelly said that his boss, Patrick James, told him the Port of Bellingham granted him permission to take the crab pots. Kelly’s driver’s license was suspended and he was arrested, issued three citations and later released on his own recognizance.
Kelly pleaded not guilty to all charges during a first appearance hearing in December.
A subsequent report filed by Blaine officer Tim Richardson disclosed that Kelly worked for James on the commercial fishing vessel, FV Salish Breeze. James told Richardson that Kelly told him he knew where to buy seized Canadian crab pots at $10 apiece.
James admitted to purchasing 69 crab pots and said he didn’t realize they were stolen. Subsequently, he agreed to turn them back over to the city.
Richardson estimated the total value of the 69 stolen crab pots to be around $3,450. Kelly is facing additional charges of second degree theft, a class C felony in Washington.
The case is under review by the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office.