Jurors Hear Opening Statements In Auditor Corruption Trial

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Criminal corruption charges against Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness have no basis in fact and are based on a biased investigation that included false statements used to obtain a search warrant and a grand jury indictment, her attorney told a jury Tuesday.

Defense attorney Steve Wood used his opening statement in McGuiness’ trial to systematically poke holes in the prosecution’s allegations that McGuiness is guilty.

“The evidence will show you that the state’s witnesses, and its evidence, are not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Wood said. “Kathy McGuiness is not guilty.”

McGuiness, a Democrat who was elected in 2018 and filed for reelection last month, is responsible for rooting out government fraud, waste and abuse. She was indicted in October on felony counts of theft and witness intimidation, and misdemeanor charges of official misconduct, conflict of interest and noncompliance with procurement laws.

“No one is above the law,” prosecutor Mark Denney told the jury.

Prosecutors allege, among other things, that McGuiness hired her daughter as a temporary employee in May 2020, even though other temporary employees had left because of the lack of available work amid the coronavirus pandemic. They say the daughter was granted special favors, such as having access to a state vehicle, and continued to be paid even after she left for college in South Carolina.

Wood told jurors it is not a crime for a state official to hire a close relative, and that Saylar McGuiness “earned every penny that she made.” The state’s own records show she was not treated differently than other similarly situated employees, he said.

Saylar McGuiness, who is among the witnesses that will testify, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Wood also rejected prosecution allegations that McGuiness intimidated and retaliated against employees who reported alleged wrongdoing or who she believed might be cooperating with investigators. Prosecutors allege that the intimidation, which included monitoring employees’ emails in real time, began as early as March 2019, but Wood said McGuiness did not learn until Sept. 2021 she was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Wood also said that the only employee in the auditor’s office who was fired or demoted during the time covering McGuiness’ alleged misconduct was her former chief of staff. Wood said that person was fired “for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a subordinate.”

“The state ignored evidence that didn’t fit their story and sometimes said things that were flat out false,” Wood said, adding that chief investigator Frank Robinson has admitting making false statements under oath in order to obtain a warrant to search McGuiness’ office.

Wood also said state documents will disprove allegations that McGuiness improperly orchestrated a no-bid “communications services” contract for a company she had used as a campaign consultant when running for lieutenant governor in 2016, then deliberately kept the contract payments under $5,000 each to avoid having to get payments approved by the Division of Accounting.

“These payments were not secret. They were not hidden,” he said, adding that McGuiness frequently sought and obtained advice from the deputy attorney assigned to her office.