State Auditor Kathleen McGuiness pleaded not guilty to charges Oct. 12 in connection with her grand jury indictment on felony theft, witness intimidation, and other charges.
In an appearance by Zoom in New Castle County Superior Court in Wilmington, McGuiness pleaded not guilty to felony theft, felony witness intimidation, conflict of interest in violation of the State of Delaware official code of conduct, noncompliance with procurement law by structuring state payments, and official misconduct.
If found guilty, she could face 13 years in prison.
Bail was set at $50,000 unsecured, which includes no contact with former Office of the Auditor of Accounts employees, and no discussion of the ongoing criminal investigation with current OAOA employees.
The investigation into wrongdoing by McGuiness began more than a year ago after a dozen whistleblowers, including OAOA employees, contacted the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust, according to the grand jury indictment released Oct. 11.
The indictment details felony theft of about $120,000 in taxpayer money that paid for two contracts with a company called My Campaign Group, and also about $19,000 to McGuiness’s daughter and about $8,000 for her daughter’s friend for work in the office.
Attorney General Kathleen Jennings said the contracts for My Campaign Group were structured for $100 less than the $50,000 minimum reporting amount, and that McGuiness hired her daughter a day after firing another employee. The positions for the daughter and friend were also never posted publicly, she said.
McGuiness’s attorney, Steven Wood, said McGuiness is innocent of the charges.
“The grand jury’s indictment, like all grand jury indictments, was based upon a one-sided presentation from witnesses and documents selected by the attorney general. The indictment is full of misleading statements and half-truths,” Wood said.
Delaware law does not prohibit family members from hiring family members, he said, and there have been many instances throughout state government, including the Attorney General’s Office.
Wood said McGuiness’s daughter did work remotely for the AOAO, and the indictment’s assumption that the only way to work remotely is through the state’s email network is false.
As for the contract with My Campaign Group, Wood said, McGuiness has, from time to time, hired outside contractors to perform various professional, policy-related and communications functions for the auditor’s office.
“Unlike the Attorney General’s Office, which has several full-time employees that assist with press and public relations, the auditor’s office does not have a full-time employee to perform those functions,” Wood said. “Furthermore, unlike many other state agencies, the auditor’s budget did not provide for a full-time policy development staffer until recently. For these reasons, Ms. McGuiness hired an outside contractor to assist in those tasks.”
Wood said My Campaign Group has performed policy development services for other elected officials in Delaware, including a former governor, and there is nothing unlawful about hiring a former campaign consultant to perform legitimate tasks related to government service. The Indictment fails to mention that the consultant has provided policy advice for elected officials across the U.S. in the past and continues to do so today, he said.
Wood said the witness intimidation charge is pure fiction. The indictment states McGuiness requested access to employee emails so she could monitor them. “[It] is clearly the result of fanciful tales spun by former employees with an axe to grind,” he said.
“Ms. McGuiness will continue to work hard on behalf of Delaware’s taxpayers and intends to focus on the job that she was elected to do,” Wood said. “She will have no further comment on this matter. When the whole story is finally heard, the facts will speak for themselves.”
McGuiness is scheduled for a case review on Monday, Oct. 18, in New Castle County Superior Court.