An Onalaska woman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges stemming from allegations she used a forged marriage certificate to obtain just over $21,500 in survivor’s benefits from the state between December 2022 and April 2023.
The defendant, identified as Katherine A. Pratt, 48, allegedly claimed she was next of kin for a man who died in a heavy equipment-related accident on Nov. 12, 2022, in an application for benefits through the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). The application included a marriage certificate that stated Pratt and the man were married in Mineral County, Montana, in September 2014. Pratt also allegedly claimed two dependents: her 7-year-old son and an unborn child who was due in April 2023.
L&I approved Pratt’s application for benefits on Dec. 12, 2022, according to court documents. In April 2023, however, L&I reportedly received “a complaint with allegations that the marriage certificate Ms. Pratt provided was false, and that she was not legally married to (the man),” according to court documents.
An L&I investigator reportedly contacted the district court in Montana where the marriage certificate was filed and confirmed “the marriage certificate was fabricated, and does not exist in Mineral County records,” according to court documents. A marriage license report from September to December 2014 additionally does not include the couple’s names on a list of people married in that time frame.
When questioned by an L&I investigator, Pratt’s daughter reportedly “stated her mom was never married,” and confirmed one of the two witnesses listed on the marriage certificate was deported in 2006 while the other had never been to Washington or Montana.
Pratt’s daughter also reportedly “said her mom was not pregnant and did not give birth to another child.”
Pratt reportedly received a total of $21,453.20 from L&I between December 2022 and April 2023, according to court documents.
She was formally charged in Lewis County Superior Court with one count of first-degree theft and two counts of forgery on Oct. 2. She was issued a summons notice for a preliminary appearance in Lewis County Superior Court for Oct. 25, which was subsequently delayed to Nov. 8. Pratt was present at that hearing and entered not guilty pleas to all charges. Trial is scheduled to begin the week of Jan. 22.
Judge Joely Yeager ruled to allow Pratt to remain out of custody on $10,000 bail.
Pratt also faces seven counts of animal cruelty in an unrelated case filed in Lewis County Superior Court in December 2022. The trial for that case is scheduled to begin the week of Jan. 29.
In that case, Pratt is accused of neglecting a large number of animals on her Onalaska property, the conditions of which were described in court documents as “unsanitary” with dogs in small, unclean cages and “trails to get from one place to another.” The property reportedly had about 20 cats, three wolf hybrids “chained in a shed,” one malamute, two pregnant huskies, multiple dogs of “an unknown breed” and about a dozen horses in “deplorable conditions,” according to previous Chronicle reporting.
At the time she was charged in that case, Pratt’s defense attorney said the death of Pratt’s husband left her in a position where she was no longer able to manage the animals, according to previous Chronicle reporting.