Amid an ongoing federal criminal investigation into State Auditor Troy Kelley and his prior business dealings, Jason Jerue has emerged as a central figure. And he’s hard to find.

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Jason Jerue has proved a hard man to find.

In 2010, when attorneys sued Troy Kelley — now the Washington state auditor but then the owner of an escrow-services company and Jerue’s boss — they failed to track down Jerue for a deposition. Few at the company, Post Closing Department, said they ever saw him.

Jerue’s wife said under oath the couple had separated and she didn’t know where he was — even when he was tending to their baby — or the names of his friends, “except by their fictitious X-Box names,” according to court records.

The vice president of Post Closing, Jerue was never questioned in that lawsuit, partly because, according to court documents and interviews, Kelley actively fought to keep his No. 2 man out of reach
Without anyone finding Jerue, Kelley settled the lawsuit filed by Old Republic National Title under secret terms in 2011. Kelley, a Democrat elected state auditor in 2012, continues to withhold details of that settlement.

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Now, amid an ongoing federal criminal investigation into Kelley and his prior business dealings, Jerue, 45, has emerged as a central figure. He’s been a long-distance employee of the auditor’s office since 2013 — starting within months of Kelley’s taking office.

In recent weeks, federal agents have subpoenaed Jerue’s hiring and personnel information from the auditor’s office and questioned at least one former co-worker from Kelley’s old business.

That employee, Dee Lamb, the company’s office coordinator, said in an interview this week that federal investigators first approached her about the business in 2012, then subpoenaed her last month to appear before a federal grand jury in Seattle.

Lamb said she did not take the stand, but FBI and IRS agents interviewed her again about Post Closing’s operations, including the handling of refund checks.

“They had me look over some copies of checks and asked me if I could tell if I wrote them or not,” said Lamb, 67. “They brought it to my attention that after 2006, I wasn’t doing as much of (the checks) as I had previously been doing and that Jason’s signature was coming up much more often.”

Lamb said she also told investigators that Kelley and Jerue came to her house in 2008, as Kelley was rapidly shutting down Post Closing. Jerue deleted company finance records from her computer, and both men carted off boxes full of paper records, she said.

Scott Smith, one of the attorneys who sued Kelley and his business and sought unsuccessfully to find Jerue, said this week that he was stunned to learn Jerue is working for the state.

Kelley has refused to talk with the media since last week, when news broke that federal agents had searched his Tacoma home and subpoenaed his office for records. In a written statement Monday, he said he’d done nothing illegal and was “puzzled” by the Justice Department’s interest.

Kelley appeared for work Monday and Tuesday in his Olympia office, but he did not come in Wednesday, the auditor’s office said.

Jerue has not responded to Seattle Times’ interview requests since Friday, when his name was revealed as the subject of the federal grand- jury subpoena to the auditor’s office.

Fee refunds

Old Republic’s lawsuit named Kelley and his wife, Diane Duffrin Kelley, claiming Post Closing, which tracked real-estate records, misappropriated more than $1.2 million in fee refunds due to its customers.

That lawsuit also accused Kelley of tax evasion and seeking to hide $3.8 million from creditors by sending the money through seven wire transfers in two weeks to multiple bank accounts — including a trust associated with Belize, a notorious tax haven.

Kelley and his attorneys responded that the lawsuit was exaggerating, trying to turn a simple contract dispute “into a tale of theft and international intrigue,” according to documents filed in federal court in Seattle.

Even now, under the spotlight of a federal investigation, Jerue has remained largely an enigma.

Officials in the auditor’s office have said Jerue has rarely been seen in Olympia since being hired in 2013, and works as a technical writer mostly from his home in California. Jerue makes $22.68 per hour and earned $22,884 in 2014.

Many of his addresses on applications, employee lists and other documents are post office boxes; other physical addresses found are outdated. Phone numbers on applications and found in Internet searches and court documents go to voice mail. There are at least three spellings for “Jerue” (JeRue, Je Rue) used by government agencies and in court documents.

The most recent local address listing led to a ramshackle Kirkland home a neighbor said had been deserted.

Jerue’s wife was at the center of a court fight over whether Old Republic’s lawyers would be allowed to question her — Kelley’s attorneys mounted a vigorous effort to prevent her deposition, saying she could provide no relevant information.

In a sworn declaration, Jerue’s wife said she was “nominally employed” by Kelley in 2007 and 2008, mostly as a “backup errand runner.”

But according to court documents, Jerue’s wife was shown on business records as the highest paid Post Closing employee in 2008 “worked more hours, had the highest rate of pay, and received more compensation than any other” during the company’s final three months in business.

Smith, in pleadings filed in 2010, said it took a month for Kelley to provide Smith with Jerue’s cellphone number. Kelley said it had been hard to find in all the documents churned by the lawsuit.

However, when Kelley was deposed during a videotaped session, he acknowledged he had Jerue’s number programmed into his cellphone.

In 2006, Jerue and his wife contributed $1,450 to Kelley’s first campaign for state representative.

Jerue and Kelley met in the early 1990s in California when they both worked for First American Title Insurance Company, according to court documents from that state and Washington. Kelley was an in-house attorney.

Both men were fired in 2000, and both sued for wrongful termination. Their cases were so similar they were consolidated in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Kelley withdrew his claim days after First American’s attorneys won a motion that would have let them explore allegations that Kelley stole artwork from a company office after his termination, according to the court docket and documents filed in California.

Kelley claimed the company had defamed him, alleging in his lawsuit he was a whistle-blower, and he was fired after pointing out wrongful actions by the company. The company claimed Kelley was let go because of downsizing, although the lawsuit says executives had accused him of having his “hand in the cookie jar,” and for moving without permission into a gated mansion that had been repossessed by First American.

Kelley moved to Washington after he walked away from the First American lawsuit, and Jerue apparently followed. Jerue was listed as chief operating officer and vice president of Post Closing, responsible for the day-to-day operations and keeping track of its business.

Lamb, the office coordinator, said she only occasionally dealt with Jerue in person while she worked for Post Closing. He mainly worked on titles and took care of the small company’s information technology, she said.

“He was friendly,” Lamb said. “I don’t know if it was an act or not, but he tried.”

When Post Closing was sued by Old Republic in U.S. District Court in Washington, Jerue and his wife were among the first people Old Republic’s lawyers started looking for.

It rapidly became what attorney Smith believes was a game of hide-the-ball, with Kelley running interference for Jerue and his wife to keep them from being deposed about Post Closing’s business dealings.

“I really exhausted my leads in trying to reach Jerue,” Smith said. “Kelley wasn’t helpful.”