Auditor Troy Kelley returned from leave as he faces federal charges for theft and money laundering over a business he once owned. The move comes one day after some lawmakers drafted a resolution to impeach him.
OLYMPIA — Just a day after a bipartisan group of state lawmakers announced an impeachment resolution against him, indicted State Auditor Troy Kelley returned from his leave of absence.
“I’m officially back,” Kelley said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. A Democrat elected auditor in 2012, Kelley added that he believes he will begin drawing pay again.
Kelley returns after taking a seven-month leave of absence spurred by federal charges alleging tax evasion and money laundering related to a business he used to own. Kelley, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a 17-count federal indictment.
The leave of absence was intended to allow him time to clear his name, he said in late April, but the resolution announced Monday calling for his impeachment spurred the auditor’s return.
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That resolution, released by two Democratic and two Republican state lawmakers, states that Kelley “willfully abandoned his statewide elected office” by taking his unpaid leave.
Kelley described his leave as a compromise with state legislators who demanded he resign due to the federal charges.
“If the Legislature would rather have me continue working as state auditor as I fight these unfair charges, I’m prepared and willing to do so,” Kelley said in the statement, citing other public officials, such as U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who remained in office while fighting federal charges.
But by the time Kelley took leave, officials were calling not for his absence but for his resignation. That list included Gov. Jay Inslee, several lawmakers, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, state Secretary of State Kim Wyman, state Treasurer Jim McIntire, and both the state Democratic and Republican parties.
A spokeswoman for Inslee called Kelley’s return troubling.
“The governor has urged Troy Kelley to resign — as have numerous legislators and state leaders — and urges him again to step down to ensure the office can continue serving the people of Washington with the trust and dignity deserving of the role,” said spokeswoman Jaime Smith.
Smith said acting Auditor Jan Jutte had been doing “an outstanding job” and said his reappearance “is likely to disrupt the very important work she and her team are doing.”
Kelley’s return represents another twist in a saga that began in March, after a federal grand-jury subpoena was issued to Kelley’s office, and law-enforcement officials searched his Tacoma home.
In April, a federal grand jury in Seattle handed down an indictment against Kelley that accused him of theft for keeping millions in fees paid by clients of Post Closing Department, a business Kelley owned before he was elected auditor.
In a 2010 lawsuit, the firm and Kelley were accused of fraudulent business dealings and tax evasion, allegations that later surfaced during Kelley’s 2012 campaign for auditor.
Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, says the resolution calling for Kelley’s impeachment was designed with his possible return in mind.
Stokesbary, one of the resolution’s four co-sponsors, noted that the resolution reads that Kelley’s “gap in service is a dereliction of duty that cannot be cured even by his returning to office in the foreseeable future.”
“My initial reaction is that it will actually help the impeachment case,” said Stokesbary, adding that “it shows he is more concerned about his personal well-being than the citizens of the state.”
In a statement earlier on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that Democratic lawmakers would discuss the impeachment resolution when they return in January.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Jutte said she will now become deputy state auditor. Jutte said Kelley told her over the weekend that he was considering a return to the office.
“I guess I was a little surprised with the conversation,” she said. Kelley joined the executive team’s regular Tuesday meeting, according to Jutte, and also received a quarterly update on the office.
Under state law, Kelley would have to resign if he were convicted of a felony. But as an official elected to a constitutional office, it doesn’t appear that Kelley could be easily dismissed from office, which is why some lawmakers are discussing impeachment.