The daughter of State Auditor Kathy McGuiness took the stand June 22 in the state’s case against her mother, giving the jury a glimpse into the inner workings of the auditor’s office during her time there as an employee.
Saylar McGuiness, 20, said she started working in the office in May 2020 while she was still a senior in high school. More than two dozen emails presented by defense attorney Steve Wood showed a variety of editing and graphics work that Saylar and her friend Virginia Bateman did for the office in their capacities as seasonal casual workers. Saylar said she made $17.50 an hour and was hired along with her friend Virginia. Two other seasonal casual employees testified earlier that they made about $15 an hour, and found work elsewhere when their hours were reduced because of the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020.
Kathy McGuiness faces charges of felony theft, felony intimidation, conflict of interest, official misconduct and violations of state procurement law in a Kent County Superior Court trial that began June 14.
The state alleges that McGuiness hired her daughter and friend while hours were cut for other employees.
The felony theft charge is connected to a bank account that Saylar shared with her mother, in which her paychecks were deposited. Saylar said she opened the account when she was 10, and all the money deposited into the account is hers, not her mother’s, and she never gave her mother money or contributions.
When she received a call from investigators in September 2021, Saylar said she was terrified because she thought the state was coming after her. After getting a call while she was at the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, she said, she asked to talk at another time, and repeated the request the next day when another investigator called her. When she did talk to an investigator, she said, her father was with her.
As for her experience at the auditor’s office which was ongoing this week, Saylar said other employees at the auditor’s office treated her and Virginia “not great.”
“They got a distaste for Virginia and I right off the bat,” Saylar said. Virginia testified earlier with a similar characterization of their time working in the office.
A former auditor in the office, Andrena Burd, had testified that she referred to Saylar and Virginia as “Cabbage Patch Kids.” During her time working for McGuiness, Burd said she supported McGuiness at first but by late 2019 characterized her as bipolar and used another disparaging term. “I was very disappointed with her,” she said.
Burd also testified that she had explained procurement rules with McGuiness and told her about a previous auditor’s office employee who would split invoices “to shake up the numbers” so they were undetectable by the state’s accounting office.
The state’s case against McGuiness claims that she submitted invoices below the state’s $5,000 threshold in order to avoid needing approval by the Division of Accounting.
Invoices in question were submitted by My Campaign Group, a company owned by Christie Gross, who testified June 22. Her company is also at the crux of the state’s procurement violation case against McGuiness, after it was awarded a $45,000 contract, an amount prosecutors say was intentionally set below the $50,000 threshold to avoid a bidding process.
Gross testified that McGuiness never told her to submit invoices below $5,000, and invoices submitted as evidence mostly showed 20-30 hours worked for $150 an hour.
By September 2020, Gross began submitting invoices for Innovate Consulting, a company she said she created to provide public policy work, leaving My Campaign Group for campaign contracts.
Under Innovate, Gross’s invoices increased to up to $15,000 in some months. Eventually, Gross said, she decided to quit policy work for the auditor’s office because she no longer enjoyed it.
“It was a very toxic culture,” she said. “I had to make the decision to leave.”