The owner of the now-defunct 509 Fitness gym is waiting for a Benton County Superior Court jury to decide if he is guilty of eight felony counts of theft for allegedly charging a $19.60 "gym enhancement fee" without authorization.
The 12-member jury, made up of three men and nine women, began deliberations in Jason Ray Sleater's case around 3:15 p.m. Monday. They did not reach a verdict before they left at 4:30 p.m., so they will be back today to continue deliberations.
Sleater, 35, now of Spokane, is charged with first-degree theft and seven counts of second-degree theft. He's accused of charging the enhancement fee against at least 375 members last year about a month before the gym at 540 N. Colorado St. in Kennewick closed.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor laid out the evidence for jurors in his closing arguments. He said they knew for sure that Sleater charged the fee, that he didn't get a legal opinion from his attorney as he claimed, and that the gym contracts did not include authorization to charge the fee.
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"We know the defendant thought he'd get away with it and he actually did, at least in a financial sense," Bloor said. "He collected a little short of $8,000 and not many people complained about it, and he pocketed the rest."
To determine if the contracts actually allowed Sleater to charge the fee, Bloor said jurors should look at the intent and language of the contracts and Sleater's conduct after charging it. He said Sleater created a "phony letter" dated in December that he purportedly posted around the gym explaining the fee was going to be charged.
Sleater didn't charge the fee previously, and got a new contract template that included a specific provision for the fee, because he knew the previous contracts didn't allow for it, Bloor said.
"He wasn't honest with the billing company. He wasn't honest with his members. One of the things is just his attitude with his partner, after those people are contacting him at the gym, the defendant said, 'We'll be fine. Nobody keeps their contracts. We'll be OK,' " Bloor said. "I'm asking you to hold the defendant accountable. Bottom line is he helped himself to money in people's accounts that he had no right to."
Defense attorney Scott Johnson told jurors that the state has the burden of proof in the case and it did not prove every element required to convict his client.
To be guilty of first-degree theft, prosecutors had to prove that Sleater received more than $5,000 from the theft. Johnson said that wasn't done. The most they proved is maybe about $400 because not all 375 members testified or gave statements about the loss.
The other elements that need to be proved are that Sleater wrongfully obtained or exerted control of the property and that he intended to deprive the members.
For the seven second-degree theft charges, Johnson said the state had to prove Sleater intended to deprive the victims of an access device, specifically their debit or credit cards. He said there's no evidence to support that.
Bloor later told the jurors that the access device means account numbers, not the physical cards.
Johnson acknowledged that the gym contracts were probably vague and could have multiple interpretations, but his client believed he had the right to collect the fee based on the contracts. The contracts said the "club reserves the right to raise dues with notice and other rates without notice at any time."
"Remember, this is not a civil case. Maybe it should be, but it's not," he said. "The state has to prove each and every statement beyond a reasonable doubt. If it was 50/50, we might be in trouble, but it's not."
Johnson also again said everything started after Kennewick police Detective Bill Dramis, who had a private membership at the gym, got upset about the gym enhancement fee and used his badge to his advantage.
The day before Dramis got involved, Officer John Greenough was called to the gym when two members were kicked off the property after complaining about the enhancement fee and Greenough told them it was a civil issue and they should contact an attorney, he said.
Johnson contends Sleater probably made a mistake when he threatened to complain to the police chief about Dramis and said "but for Detective Dramis, Jason would not be sitting in this chair."
"Jason did some things he shouldn't have done. He acted in some ways he shouldn't have acted. He made some mistakes," Johnson said. "But he is not guilty of being an eight-time felon like the state makes him out to be. I ask you to use your common sense and find him not guilty."
In his rebuttal, Bloor also said that not every member who was charged the fee had to testify that it was unauthorized, the jury just needed to look at the facts and all the evidence shown.
Bloor noted that while Johnson claimed Sleater attempted to refund the money, Bloor said he never actually did and only offered to make the refunds if the charges against him were dropped.
Dramis also didn't start the investigation or get it started, he is just a victim of the crime, Bloor said. He said the defense's claim that "but for Detective Dramis, we wouldn't be here," isn't true.
"But for the defendant deciding he has a right to somebody else's credit cards. But for him imposing fees on the credit cards without approval ... but for his actions of trying to hide that, trying to cover it up with some phony letter, but for those things, we wouldn't be here," Bloor said.
Before closing arguments, Johnson argued two motions to dismiss, which were denied by Judge Bruce Spanner.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; email@example.com