A jury of 12 with five alternatives heard opening statements June 14 in the criminal trial against State Auditor Kathy McGuiness, who is accused of felony theft, intimidation, and other charges in connection with misusing her office for personal gain. The first day heard the prosecution emphasizing the charges against McGuiness and her defense attorney claiming her innocence.
“She ran the Office of Auditor of Accounts as if it were a family business,” said Mark Denney, lead prosecutor for the Attorney General’s Office.
The felony theft charge stems from McGuiness hiring her daughter to work as a casual, seasonal employee for the auditor’s office and earning income for work done after she left for college in South Carolina. Checks were deposited into a joint account that the daughter shared with McGuiness, Denney said.
She’s also accused of structuring a contract so that it fell beneath the state threshold required for a bidding process, then making out payments to avoid state scrutiny.
On the charge of felony intimidation, Denney said, McGuiness submitted 42 requests from the state technology office to gain access to emails of several employees. “Elected officials rarely submit these,” he said.
Defense attorney Steve Wood said nothing McGuiness did was against the law. She hired her daughter, and paid her, the same way the office has always paid casual, seasonal employees, and handed out a state contract to a consulting group the same way contracts have been issued by even the Attorney General’s Office, he said.
“The state flat-out said things that are false,” Wood said.
On the theft charge, he said, many teenage workers share bank accounts with parents, and it doesn’t mean the parent is taking money from the account. There is no evidence that the daughter was giving her mother any of her paycheck, Wood said.
Giving her daughter use of a state vehicle was also not a conflict as the state claims, Wood said, showing paperwork that other seasonal employees were given access to a state car by McGuiness. McGuiness’ daughter and her friend, also hired by McGuiness to work in the office, often drove McGuiness from Rehoboth Beach to the office in Dover, Wood said.
As for the felony charge of intimidating employees, Wood said, McGuiness did not know she was under investigation until September 2021. Any claims of intimidation before that date would not apply, he said.
Under McGuiness, Wood said, the office’s motto was confidentiality.
“That term shows up repeatedly in the [state auditor’s office] policy manual,” Wood said. “That’s Kathy McGuiness trying to run her office in an efficient way.”
Witnesses testifying during the first day of the trial mostly spoke about payroll data and salaries regarding seasonal employees and other technical matters such as accessing a building with a security card and computer network access by employees.
Testimony will continue Wednesday, June 15, in Kent County Superior Court.