Ex-fire district chief pleads not guilty to theft

Fire District 5

Former Fire District 5 Fire Chief Dan Prater pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of first degree theft after allegedly misappropriating funds from the fire district starting in 2016. He made the plea in a Grays Harbor Superior Court appearance on Monday.

Prosecuting attorney Steven Jackson said he wasn’t worried about Prater failing to appear at future court dates and Judge David Edwards agreed to release terms. Prater’s next court appearance was scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 12 to give his attorney, Erik Kupka, time for discovery.

Kupka told Edwards, “I understand the discovery is going to be voluminous.”

Theft in the first degree is a class B felony in Washington punishable by up to 10 years in jail, with related fines and restitution where applicable.

Prater tells The Daily World that he has no comment on the case at this time.

Prater was placed on paid administrative leave from the district, which is headquartered in Elma, in April 2019. He was fired a month later after a state audit discovered payroll misappropriations of $105,822 that occurred between October 2016 and March 2019. A State Auditor’s Office report stated that Prater and his attorney were interviewed in October 2020. Prater allegedly said he had cashed out more vacation than was available to him.

“He also said that not only did he receive overtime pay he was not eligible for, he had not worked extra hours at all,” the report stated. “He said he knew he had made mistakes and he wanted to make things right by returning the money he did not earn.”

The state audit stated internal controls of the district at the time were not adequate to safeguard public resources. The fire chief handled the entire payroll process, including his own payroll information and submitted payroll to the county without any review.

Following the audit, the fire district filed a report with the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the case. The Grays Harbor County prosecutor’s office filed the charges in April based on that report.