BEND — A former chief of the Baker Rural Fire Protection District was found not guilty of official misconduct Thursday in a Deschutes County courtroom.
Dan Weitz stood trial in Deschutes County Circuit Court for misconduct and first-degree theft by deception. Weitz, 62, was alleged to have deceived the Bend Fire Department when he bought a used air compressor at a deep discount in May 2017.
The case played out over two days before Judge Stephen Forte. A number of fire officials made the five-hour drive from Baker County to testify and watch proceedings. In the end, Forte chastised Weitz for his business ethics but ruled the charges didn’t fit Weitz’s conduct.
“After listening to testimony and based on the evidence, it’s clear to the court that the defendant was playing fast and loose with the rules,” Forte said.
Air compressors are important in firefighting as they provide the breathable air used in body-worn respiratory systems. All departments need them, though they’re an especially big-ticket item for smaller agencies.
At the center of this case is a 1991 Jordair SCBA 5,000-PSI air compressor that Bend Fire took out of service in 2017. A photo of the compressor, which is about 8 feet long, 5 feet tall and 5 feet deep, was entered into evidence.
Weitz joined the all-volunteer Baker Rural department in 2004 and was appointed chief in 2014.
Along with his involvement in fire service, Weitz has long operated numerous businesses, he testified. In early 2017, Weitz started an LLC in Oregon — Baker Rural Fire and Rescue — to provide services on large wildland fires.
In May of that year, Weitz attended the annual conference of the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association at the Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond. There he met Bob Madden, Bend’s deputy fire chief.
He learned from Madden that Bend Fire had recently upgraded compressors and had a 1991 Jordair unit sitting under a tarp in one of its parking lots, needing a new home.
Bend Fire’s policy is to offer its used equipment to smaller agencies at a discount, or else sell it at auction. The rule is intended to prevent corruption by keeping staff members from arranging sweetheart deals with their family and friends.
Madden told Weitz the compressor was old, but ran well. It had one other problem — it ran on three-phase power.
Madden said they wanted $5,000 for it. Weitz balked at this but mentioned his district typically responds to calls with partner agencies, usually Baker City Fire Department and Haines Rural Fire Protection District. Their compressors were manufactured in the 1970s and were in poor working condition.
After a price of $1,000 was discussed, Weitz said he’d talk to the Baker Rural District’s board of directors about making the purchase.
“I said, if you want to get rid of it, I could probably try to find a home for it,” Weitz testified.
At the May 18, 2017, meeting of the Baker RFPD board of directors, Weitz raised the issue, and it was quickly shot down. Several board members testified hearing him say he could sell the compressor for tens of thousands more than the sale price, though the comment was not entered into the meeting minutes.
Weitz testified that after the rejection, he felt obligated to Madden to take the compressor off Bend Fire’s hands.
In June, he drove to Bend and delivered a cashier’s check for $1,000 to Bend Fire Department. But, controversially, he used an account associated with his side business, Baker Rural Fire and Rescue, and signed the check “Chief Dan Weitz.”
Bend Fire’s bill of sale from the transaction lists the purchaser as the Baker Rural Fire Protection District, not Weitz’s LLC.
Weitz loaded the compressor onto a trailer and returned to his home in Baker County, depositing the compressor in his climate-controlled garage.
After learning of the purchase, board members contacted Oregon State Police, which began a criminal investigation.
Weitz resigned as chief in September 2017.
In December 2017, Weitz was served a criminal indictment in Deschutes County Circuit Court alleging misconduct and theft by deception.
Prosecutor Dan Reesor had a high bar to clear to prove Weitz intended to defraud Bend Fire, in part because Weitz made no efforts to sell the compressor before he was charged with a crime.
“This case involves so much more than the purchase and theft of a compressor,” Reesor said. “It involves abusing a position of trust. It’s corruption, both financial and with regard to his community … there are no assumptions here, Your Honor. It’s in black and white.”
Reesor compared the case to a Bend Police officer going to a gun store and telling the clerk he was buying a new duty weapon. On hearing this, the clerk lowers the price by $4,000. The officer buys the weapon but keeps it for his personal use.
Weitz was represented by attorney L. Todd Wilson.
“The state hasn’t proved theft,” he said. “It hasn’t proven official misconduct. This was a rush to judgment. This was not a theft case. This is not a crime.”
The 1991 Jordair air compressor is located at the Haines fire station. It is not in service.