KENNEWICK -- An owner of a now defunct Kennewick gym accused of pocketing money from members wants the Benton County Prosecutor's Office off the case because several employees are alleged victims.
The lawyer for Jason Ray Sleater filed a motion to recuse the prosecutor's office, claiming the first-degree theft charge against his client should be dismissed.
Then, an out-of-county prosecutor can come in to review the police reports and "make an independent charging decision," wrote attorney Scott Johnson.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor countered that the three employees in his office -- among the 375 members of 509 Fitness -- "have not been involved in the decision whether or not to file charges, have not spoken to me about whether our office should file charges and have not requested or advocated that charges be filed."
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Sleater, 35, was charged earlier this month in Benton County Superior Court with the one count of theft.
Bloor alleges that Sleater, as an owner of the 540 N. Colorado St. business, had access to the debit and credit card numbers of various members and charged each person a $19.60 "gym enhancement" fee.
A woman who worked at 509 Fitness said she and another employee had been directed by Sleater to assess the fee, court documents said.
Members, who often paid monthly through automatic withdrawals, reportedly did not authorize the fee on their cards. It brought in $7,350 between Feb. 21 and March 15, documents said.
The gym abruptly closed March 21.
An outgoing message on the business's answering machine at the time said it closed because of a drop in membership, a rise in major expenses and the saturation of the market by fitness clubs.
It had been open since 2008.
A pro-rated reimbursement of recently charged membership fees was expected within 14 days of the business closing. However, the charge against Sleater alleges that this special fee never was refunded.
Sleater appeared last week in court with Johnson, who said the prosecution's written response to his motion brought up some "good points." He asked to delay Sleater's initial entry of a plea for one week.
Johnson filed his motion last week, saying the office should not have taken the case because it couldn't be fair, impartial or neutral in the matter.
"In this case ... the Benton County Prosecutor's Office has a personal interest in securing the conviction of the defendant," Johnson wrote.
The alleged crime was investigated by the Kennewick Police Department. Several Kennewick officers reportedly were members of 509 Fitness.
Bloor argued in court documents that his office should not be disqualified because the "appearance of fairness doctrine" does not apply to a prosecutor's decision to file or not file charges.
Bloor added that his three colleagues never went to police about the alleged theft, they constitute just 0.3 percent of the victims and lost $19.60 each. If the case goes to trial, he will rely on testimony of other individuals to prove the theft, he said.