U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins, who is in a hotly contested Republican primary battle to retain his seat in the 2nd District, had multiple felony charges filed against him Tuesday.


Watkins is accused of repeatedly signing documents last year listing a UPS Store in Topeka as his home address.


About the charges


Republican Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said he charged Watkins, 43, with one felony count each of voting without being qualified, unlawful advance voting and interference with law enforcement involving providing false information, as well as a misdemeanor count of failing to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a change of address.


The charges were filed after an investigation conducted by the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office, Kagay said.


Those charges "are reflective of the factual allegations that were discovered by detectives during the course of this investigation," Sheriff Brian C. Hill said in a news release late Tuesday.


Watkins’ response


Watkins maintained his innocence Tuesday and called the charges hyperpolitical and very suspicious.


"I haven’t done anything wrong," Watkins said. "As soon as I realized that I had put my mailing address instead of my physical address, we fixed it. This is very suspicious, seems highly political (and) we’ve cooperated with the district attorney completely."


COVID-19’s effect


Kagay said the probe, which he requested after news of the alleged conduct was brought to his attention last December, was delayed significantly because of the COVID-19 shutdown.


Response from the Democrats


The DCCC released the following statement:


"If you want to be trusted to write our laws, you should at least follow them. Steve Watkins has proven that he can’t pass this basic test, and it’s clear why Kansans are ready for a change. At a time when voters are sick of corruption and scandal in Washington, Mayor Michelle De La Isla has proven that she has the character and the track record to be that change," said DCCC spokesperson Brooke Goren.


Watkins’ defense


Jim Joice, Watkins’ chief of staff, said last December that Watkins made a mistake when he listed the UPS Store as his address. Joice said Watkins actually lived in the Overlook Apartments, 1310 S.W. Overlook, which are about 2½ miles north of the UPS Store. Those apartments are in the city council’s 9th District — a different district than the one in which Watkins voted in the election.


Joice said questions about the residency issue posed by The Topeka Capital-Journal led to a staff review of the congressman’s voter registration. He said Watkins mistakenly portrayed his residence to be the UPS building.


"He just filed it incorrectly," Joice said. "I think that’s a little ludicrous."


The election


State Treasurer Jake LaTurner said the charges make it clear the race is now between Dennis Taylor and himself.


"Three weeks from now, Republican voters across the 2nd congressional district are going to have to pick the very best candidate to go against the mayor of Topeka Michelle De La Isla," LaTurner said. "She is well-funded, she is a candidate supported by Nancy Pelosi and we need to put our best foot forward. Clearly, our current congressman with three felony charges and a misdemeanor charge is not the person to do that."


What’s next


The Capital-Journal is trying to obtain the complaint against Watkins. He can choose to fight the charges in court or work out a plea agreement with Kagay.