The former owner of a Kennewick gym pleaded innocent Thursday to charges that he pocketed money from members.
Jason Ray Sleater entered his plea in Benton County Superior Court after Judge Craig Matheson denied a defense motion to pull the Benton County Prosecutor's Office off the case.
Attorney Scott Johnson filed the motion last month seeking to recuse the prosecutor's office because some employees were members of 509 Fitness and named on the list of potential victims.
Johnson agreed with Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor that the appearance of fairness doctrine doesn't apply, but he said recusal still is appropriate because "there's a due process issue here."
"When you have members of the prosecutor's office who are actually named victims in the police reports ... it creates a situation where my client's ability to get a fair trial or an appearance to get a fair trial is diminished," Johnson said.
Bloor said the three employees in the prosecutor's office who are among the 375 members of the gym have not put on pressure on him or the other deputy prosecutor who reviewed the case for filing.
"We're alleging 300-and-some odd people were defrauded of $20. That's not going to make or break any of the three (prosecutor's office employees)," he added.
Matheson agreed that the individual victims shouldn't be involved in the case, but others in the office can be.
"If it's a very serious case ... it could be something of a different magnitude ... but this appears to be fairly minor in terms of individual victim losses," he said. "... It's the jury really, not the prosecutor, that makes the decisions -- or the judge."
After getting a trial set for May 14, Johnson then filed two additional motions -- one for a bill of particulars and a motion to dismiss based on selective prosecution.
No arguments were made on those motions, because Bloor has to have time to respond in writing first.
Sleater, 35, is charged with one count of first-degree theft. He is accused of charging each member of his gym a $19.60 "gym enhancement" fee. The members, however, reportedly did not authorize the fees on their debit and credit cards.
The fee brought in $7,350 between Feb. 21, 2011, and March 15, 2011, documents said. Sleater then abruptly shut down the gym at 540 N. Colorado St., on March 21.