Friends and political colleagues of former GOP consultant Jerry Kroon said they are stunned and saddened by news that he will go to prison for an act many consider unthinkable: robbing a bank.
"I'm sick. I could hardly believe it," said Veda Jellen, state director for U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who met Kroon 13 years ago when he worked for the state Republican Party. "He's a bright, talented, energetic young fellow. He must have snapped."
Kroon, 37, of Redmond was sentenced to three years in prison for robbing a Portland Key Bank branch with a pellet gun last August and taking more than $8,800. The FBI reportedly considered him a suspect in two other robberies in Portland.
Kroon is in seclusion with his family, said his attorney, Stephen Houze of Portland. But Houze issued a statement Friday, admitting that Kroon robbed the bank at a time of personal financial crisis and "extreme emotional despair."
"Jerry Kroon for many years has suffered from a previously undiagnosed major depressive mental illness," said Houze. "This shocking and tragic situation has been the source of great concern to everyone who knows him. He continues to receive medical care and his depression is currently in remission."
A family member contacted on Whidbey Island, where Kroon was raised, would not talk about the case.
But, at his sentencing hearing, Kroon called it "the dark hour of my life" and said he was sorry for traumatizing bank employees and for causing his family anguish.
Few could believe the story as word raced through local Republican circles Friday.
Several politicians for whom Kroon had worked said he seemed to have disappeared about two years ago.
That's apparently when his financial problems escalated. Vern and Anne Witte, longtime Republican activists in Issaquah, said they invested in a political mailing-list business Kroon started in 1991. They said it folded two years later, and Anne Witte said she had been trying unsuccessfully to reach Kroon to get some of their money back.
"He was a good consultant but tried to handle too many campaigns," said Anne Witte. "I really feel sorry for him."
In 1993 Kroon, a moderate who clashed with the more conservative wing of the GOP, was fired as Republican chairman of East King County's 5th Legislative District, accused by county Republican chairwoman Nona Brazier of trying to restrict anti-abortion conservatives from party participation.
He appealed the firing, but it was upheld by a King County Superior Court judge.
Six months earlier Kroon, then head of the state's Republicans for Choice group, ran unsuccessfully for chairman of the state Republican Party.
Several friends and colleagues said his career began spiraling downward in 1992, when several of his candidates were defeated.
That year he worked on former U.S. Rep. Sid Morrison's gubernatorial campaign and former State Lands Commissioner Brian Boyle's aborted race for U.S. Senate. He also worked for former state Rep. Roy Ferguson, who ran for Congress.
Kroon's attorney said his client will serve his time at a minimum-security federal facility near Spokane, reporting after Christmas.