State Auditor Troy Kelley cannot evade questions about a criminal investigation and remain in office.

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STATE Auditor Troy Kelley is supposed to be the people’s agent to root out and shine the spotlight on fraud and financial abuse in state and local government.

Yet now that he is the target of an apparent criminal tax-fraud investigation, Kelley hides in his office, refusing to answer legitimate questions about a federal raid on his house last week.

Kelley deserves the presumption of innocence in the criminal investigation. But as an elected official, he has put himself in an untenable position: leading the state office whose only duty is accountability, while evading accountability himself.

If he is going to remain credible as auditor, he must make a public accounting. He needs to stop hiding in his office. Release records his office turned over to federal agents. He should answer as many questionsas he can.

That might be enough to quell questions about his ability to be the state’s fraud watchdog-in-chief. It might not.

If he continues to give the public the silent treatment, he should resign.

The problems spotlighted by the raid last week on his Tacoma home by U.S. Treasury agents aren’t new. A federal grand jury subpoena indicates an investigation into Kelley’s previous work in the mortgage industry, which had been the subject of a lawsuit unearthed during his 2012 run for statewide office. The federal subpeona specifically sought records about a former private-sector employee of Kelley’s company, Jason Jerue, who followed him into the Auditor’s Office, yet was allowed to work from California.

During his campaign, Kelley, a Democrat, denied wrongdoing, dismissing the issue as a settled business dispute. This week, he said he was “puzzled” by the investigation.

But his recent actions do not inspire confidence. After his home was raided, Kelley reportedly chose to remain on vacation out of state. Reporters have obtained records turned over to federal investigators from other state agencies, but Kelley’s own office has not yet responded to public-records requests.

On Monday, as reporters staked out his office lobby, Kelley apparently slipped in through a back door and sent a spokesman to distribute a short statement.

The questions about Kelley’s conduct rise to a higher level of concern because they go to the heart of his public duties. The Auditor’s Office must be the ideal of accountability in order to demand the same from state and local agencies.

The Seattle Times editorial board endorsed Kelley in 2012 as the better option in “a disappointing choice between two flawed candidates.” The endorsement called on Kelley to release a 2011 legal settlement involving one of his former businesses, which had been accused of hiding $3.8 million in the offshore haven of Belize and other newly created accounts.

Kelley should’ve followed that advice then, and must follow it now.

He must decide whether he is going to prioritize an apparent criminal defense strategy, in which he remains quiet, or his public duties.

This is his mess, and his choice: Come clean, or quit.