A typical target of a federal investigation would be advised to hunker down, stay out of sight and not volunteer anything linked to the inquiry — pretty much what Troy Kelley has been doing for the past two weeks.
But Kelley isn’t a typical target. The Tacoma Democrat is the elected state auditor, entrusted by voters with ensuring the financial soundness of state and local government agencies, uncovering waste and fraud, and investigating whistleblowers’ allegations of official misconduct.
For that reason, the auditor’s personal integrity and adherence to the law must be above reproach. So far, Kelley’s failure to be transparent and forthcoming isn’t doing much to assure state citizens that that is the case.
Kelley has a responsibility to constituents to be open regarding documents he’s surrendered under subpoena from the Department of Justice and records sought by the FBI pertaining to his time as a 28th District state representative.
If Kelley finds that defending himself against possible federal charges takes precedence over leading his office, then he should resign. The position of state auditor must be held by a person whose trustworthiness is not in question.
Although innocence is presumed until one is found guilty, simply being the target of a federal grand jury is a huge cause for concern — especially since ethical and financial questions have dogged Kelley since his campaign for auditor in 2012.
During the campaign, Watkins hammered Kelley over a 2010 lawsuit brought against Kelley’s real estate records company by a client alleging misappropriation of $3.8 million as well as “fraudulently transferring funds, intentional spoilation of evidence, shady business schemes, tax evasion and hiding from creditors.”
Kelley said he had done nothing improper, yet settled the suit out of court for an undisclosed amount. He has refused to reveal terms of the confidential agreement.
Earlier, Kelley had worked for a title insurance company. After he was fired, he sued for wrongful termination. When the company said it had video footage of him breaking into its office and stealing a painting, he dropped the lawsuit.
Kelley — who was informed in mid-2013 that federal investigators were interested in him — professes to be “puzzled” by what they are after. The most he will say is that “the U.S. Attorney has questions about some financial activities related to my prior business.”
It seems a little more serious than that. A tax-fraud unit of the Internal Revenue Service has sought records for a company that Kelley transferred assets to while closing his records company. Agents in bulletproof best don’t break down your front door and search your home, and federal grand juries — which consider evidence in criminal cases — don’t issue subpoenas for your records if they just have a few questions.
On his office’s website, Kelley’s biography states that as a legislator, he advocated for government transparency and fought to improve accountability.
It’s time that he showed transparency and accountability himself. Otherwise, he should step down.