Washington’s elected auditor, Troy Kelley, is uniquely charged with holding public agencies accountable for the way they handle public money and perform their duties. Atop his website are blazoned the words, “Independence,” “Respect” and “Integrity.”
Now that a federal grand jury has charged Kelley with 10 major crimes, all connected to theft, he cannot credibly continue to serve in his high office. He should step down immediately.
He says he is innocent and will fight to prove it. The criminal justice system presumes him innocent unless proven guilty.
But the U.S. Justice Department is not in the habit of flinging around charges lightly. It spent many months investigating Kelley, and the indictment lays out shocking accounts of large-scale theft from home buyers, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. It cites serious evidence to back up the charges.
Like anyone else, he deserves due process and a chance to argue his case in a court of law. But the standards for holding statewide office — especially the auditor’s office — are much higher than “might not be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
There’s been a shadow over the office since federal investigators searched Kelley’s Tacoma house a month ago. His evasive behavior since then has deepened the public’s concern. Thursday’s indictment means the auditor’s office is held by a criminal suspect facing grave federal charges. The state auditor is responsible for enforcing honesty in government. Anyone who holds such a public trust must be above any suspicion of dishonesty.
Kelley has told reporters that “none of the allegations touch on my work as an elected official in any way.” He’s stressed that the charges involve “my private business practices.”
That suggests a clean and clear separation between the office and the man, between private and public misconduct.
Could a governor, say, be implicated in private racketeering or extortion, yet remain credible in his public capacity? It doesn’t work that way. Trust can’t be subdivided between public and private. And trust — not a formal criminal conviction — is the issue here.
The most disturbing part of the indictment is the charge that Kelley, while tracking documents on behalf of title companies, stole more than $1 million by not returning fees he held in trust from real estate transactions.
The possibility that any public official may have stolen from thousands of ordinary home buyers is shocking. That the accused is Washington’s auditor — of all people — is beyond shocking. Kelley has every right to try to clear his name in court, but he has no right to continue in office as he does so. He must go.