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Indicted Washington state auditor returns to work; governor’s office calls move ‘troubling’

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SEATTLE (AP) — Indicted Washington state Auditor Troy Kelley has returned to work after several months on leave while he fights criminal charges that include tax evasion, money laundering and possession of stolen property.

Kelley informed his office in a letter Tuesday that he had returned to work. He said he previously took a leave of absence at the request of lawmakers, and some of those same lawmakers are calling for his impeachment based in part on the fact that he hasn’t been working.

“I have ended my leave of absence and returned to work in Olympia as State Auditor today,” Kelley said in his statement. “I had previously taken a leave of absence upon the request of the same legislators who are now attempting an impeachment based on the sole fact that I did what they asked me to do – take leave without pay.

“I believed that taking the unpaid leave struck a fair balance between succumbing to false claims and honoring my commitment to the public. 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.

“I would note that other publicly-elected officials who have been subject to scrutiny by the federal government have not been treated in this same fashion. U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Ted Stevens are examples of public officials who were not subject to impeachment proceedings while they fought claims by government attorneys. I see no principled reason why the Washington State Legislature should treat my situation differently … I will continue to perform the job the people of Washington have elected me to do and I will not back down in the face of political pressure and a false indictment.”

Kelley was indicted last spring in connection with a real-estate services business that he used to run. Federal prosecutors say he kept $3 million in fees that he was supposed to refund to thousands of homeowners.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s spokesman, Jaime Smith,  issued the following statement in response to Kelley’s return:  “Today’s news is 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.

“In Kelley’s absence, Jan Jutte has been doing an outstanding job as auditor. Kelley’s reappearance is likely to disrupt the very important work she and her team are doing. The Office of the Auditor provides essential accountability and watchdog functions for state government and should remain free from the distractions and drama of Troy Kelley’s legal challenges.”