Julie Kempf, who was fired as King County elections superintendent and is now running for elections director, was the subject of an extensive criminal investigation into allegations that she forged documents to exonerate herself and blame others for her errors. She was never charged.

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Julie Kempf, who was fired as King County elections superintendent and is running for elections director, was the subject of an extensive criminal investigation into allegations that she forged documents to exonerate herself and blame others.

The allegations led to Kempf’s arrest in 2005, but she was never charged.

Kempf was fired in January 2003 for allegedly lying about why thousands of absentee ballots were mailed late to voters.

After her firing, Kempf was suspected of inserting into public records phony e-mails that made others appear responsible for foul-ups that led to her firing.

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In an interview with The Seattle Times, Kempf denied the allegation and said she might have been investigated because of her outspoken criticism of ballot handling and security after she left the elections office.

Kempf, 44, also known as Julie Anne Kempf, is one of six candidates in the Feb. 3 vote-by-mail election for elections director. Voters in November decided to make the job an elected position after lingering conflict over the contested 2004 governor’s election.

As superintendent, Kempf ran the day-to-day operations of the elections office for three years. She said she is running for the director’s job because, of all the candidates, only she has successfully managed the elections office during a severe budget crisis.

Kempf said she knew the criminal investigation of her might come up during the campaign. But she believed voters would realize the allegations were “false and fabricated.”

Documents detailing a lengthy investigation by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the state Attorney General and King County Sheriff’s Office were obtained by The Seattle Times under public-disclosure requests.

The investigation prompted a sheriff’s detective to recommend criminal charges, but the Attorney General’s office determined the case lacked sufficient proof.

The documents show that about a year after her firing, Kempf asked for public records related to election operations and reviewed them on four days. Election officials called prosecutors after Kempf asked for certified copies of e-mail printouts that officials said they didn’t recall seeing earlier among the records.

The e-mails contained purported exchanges between election employees.

One e-mail said Kempf’s boss — who had fired her — had ordered another employee to secretly follow her to a package-handling service. The employee then allegedly retrieved a package of election documents Kempf was supposed to mail to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The package never arrived, and Kempf was fired, in part, for allegedly lying about mailing it.

In another e-mail, two of Kempf’s subordinates discussed how they failed to tell her about the late mailing of absentee ballots. A third e-mail implied there was a conspiracy to rig the vote count to defeat the Seattle monorail initiative, and only Kempf’s public disclosure of the true numbers thwarted the plot.

Two workers implicated by the e-mails were questioned Feb. 13, 2004, by then-Elections Director Dean Logan and sent home on paid leave. The workers told Logan they didn’t write the e-mails, and suspicions grew that the e-mails might be fakes.

Mysterious e-mails

Three days later, law enforcement got involved. Senior King County Prosecutor Ivan Orton, of the fraud unit, examined the e-mail printouts and saw anomalies that led him to believe they were fake, records show. The workers put on leave were called back to work the next day.

Kempf told The Times it would have been impossible for her to add the printouts to the records because a county employee was always with her. “We literally were joined at the hip.”

The employee told a sheriff’s detective she was with Kempf virtually all of the time, but at times briefly left the room.

Kempf said she didn’t know the origin of the printouts. “Unlike King County, I’m unwilling to speculate and smear potentially innocent people,” she said.

On Feb. 17, 2004, the day the two workers returned, Logan received an e-mail from “Jane Doe,” who claimed to be an election worker disturbed by the return of “the twin evils.” The anonymous writer said one worker was prone to forge or throw away documents to avoid blame, the other to cover for her.

Orton, the prosecutor, found the e-mail had been sent from a Kinko’s. He obtained surveillance tapes from all 25 Seattle-area Kinko’s. Kempf was seen on a tape from the University District store.

Orton wrote in a draft affidavit that Kempf entered the Kinko’s computer room about 1 ½ minutes before creation of a Hotmail account from which the “twin evils” e-mail was sent. She left about four minutes after the e-mail was sent to Logan, Orton stated.

Kempf told The Times she did not send the e-mail, but met an election worker’s “significant other” at Kinko’s. She said that person might have sent the e-mail to relay the worker’s concerns about the elections office.

“I don’t know for certain,” Kempf said, declining to identify the person.

Eight days after the Kinko’s e-mail, Kempf picked up the copies of the public records she had earlier requested, and complained that some documents were missing. Officials had purposely withheld the e-mail printouts they suspected Kempf had inserted.

Kempf told The Times she didn’t remember seeing those e-mails when she first looked through the public records, but complained because it appeared officials had given her copies of some records she didn’t ask for and failed to give her others she requested.

As Orton continued to look into the case, his office determined it might have a conflict because its civil division represents the elections office. In 2004, prosecutors asked the state attorney general to take the case.

It wasn’t until April 2005 that the AG’s office asked the King County Sheriff’s Office to complete the investigation. Detective Christopher Johnson began gathering information, including a statement from a top Microsoft official who concluded the e-mail printouts were forgeries because of formatting oddities.

The detective’s visit

On July 8, 2005, Johnson went to Kempf’s Green Lake home to speak with her.

After Kempf did not answer the door, Johnson, according to his written account, saw her begin to drive away through an alley behind her home. Johnson, who was in plain clothes, wrote that he tried to stop Kempf by standing in front of the car, holding up his badge and calling out that he was a sheriff’s detective.

Kempf accelerated, Johnson wrote, forcing him to “jump out of the way to avoid being struck ” Kempf drove away.

Kempf told The Times she was tired because a friend had died the day before. She said she was wearing “Coke-bottle glasses” instead of her contacts. “It was pouring rain, I was crying, I’m backing out of my driveway, starting to drive down the alley and this guy crosses in front of me. I thought he was a construction worker.”

She said the man didn’t stand in front of her car or indicate he was a police officer.

On July 19, Kempf was arrested and booked for investigation of various crimes including forgery for the e-mails and assault, then released pending a decision whether to file charges.

On the advice of her attorney, Kempf did not talk with investigators.

Investigation widens

The investigation widened a month later. Johnson began looking into a 1999 incident in which Kempf’s mother — then the treasurer for 33rd District Democrats — was accused of repeatedly failing to file financial disclosure forms to the county and state.

According to Johnson, Kempf reported to her supervisor she found the forms in the elections office while working after hours, misfiled in the wrong year in a Republican folder.

Johnson concluded, based on irregularities with the forms, that Kempf “forged those documents to cover for her mother’s violations.”

Kempf told The Times she couldn’t say whether the forms were authentic. But, she said, she didn’t create them, and another worker actually found them while archiving records.

In September 2006, after intermittently working on the case for another year, Johnson proposed charging Kempf with forgery for the e-mail printouts and 33rd District incident; criminal impersonation for the “twin evils” e-mail sent from Kinko’s; and assault for allegedly trying to run him over.

The AG’s office decided the allegations couldn’t be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard for a criminal conviction, said Lana Weinmann, the assistant attorney general who oversaw the case.

Weinmann noted other people handled the suspicious e-mails found in the public records.

It also was unclear if phony e-mails fit the legal definition of forgery, Weinmann said, and there were questions about whether the 33rd District incident fell outside the statute of limitations.

As for assault, Weinmann said it would be difficult to prove to a jury that Kempf knew the detective was a police officer.

Kempf told The Times that investigators never provided her a detailed account of the allegations, and that she was not aware of the full extent of the case until shown documents by The Times.

She said some election workers might have planted the e-mail printouts in the public records as a “cruel joke” on her, and that elections officials were eager to believe the worst about her because of her continuing criticisms of the office.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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