Testimony concluded Wednesday afternoon in the criminal corruption trial of State Auditor Kathleen McGuiness.
Now that both sides have rested, the jury will hear closing statements and the judge’s instructions Thursday, then begin deliberations.
McGuiness is charged with multiple felonies and misdemeanors alleging conflict of interest, theft, non-compliance with procurement law, official misconduct and witness intimidation.
She’s accused of arranging public payments to a campaign consultant to avoid regulator scrutiny, hiring her daughter whose salary was deposited into a jointly-owned bank account and attempting to intimidate employees who might help investigators looking into her conduct.
Before the defense rested, Superior Court Judge William Carpenter reminded McGuiness that she had the right to testify in her own defense.
“I am confident my team has conveyed reasonable doubt, so no thank you, your honor,” McGuiness replied.
Carpenter has limited closing statements to one and a half hours per side.
Prosecutors will present their statements first, followed by the defense. The state will be allowed to offer a brief rebuttal.
The trial enters this next phase after ten days of testimony — longer than initially expected.
Most of that time was spent questioning the state’s 25 witnesses, including current and former employees, McGuiness’ family members and friends, officials from other agencies and Department of Justice investigators.
The defense called just five witnesses, including four former employees and Frank Robinson, chief investigator for the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust.
First on the witness stand Wednesday was Kyra Marshall, a former part-time employee and friend of McGuiness’ daughter, Saylar.
Marshall testified that she got the job because of her friendship with Saylar, didn’t interview for the position, drove McGuiness’ state vehicle, earned $17.50 per hour with a weekly maximum of 29.5 hours, and “banked” her hours during the state fair so she could be paid despite working more than the weekly maximum.
While that testimony may seem damning at face value, McGuiness’ defense team hopes to show that Saylar McGuiness was treated just the same as other similarly situated employees, including Marshall.
The defense next called Lydia August, another former part-time employee who testified from home via Zoom.
Her testimony brought some levity to the trial as her puppy barked through most of the direct and cross examinations.
She said there was some confusion as to whether she resigned from the auditor’s office or was laid off.
August said she always planned on stepping down in May 2020, but personal circumstances changed and she let McGuiness know she could keep working.
On May 18, 2020, McGuiness’ chief of staff told August that because of COVID-19 there wasn’t any work for her to do and her services would no longer be needed.
August said that left her confused as to how her departure should be classified, something the Department of Labor also struggled to ascertain during subsequent unemployment proceedings.
That’s relevant because the state alleges McGuiness laid off employees to make way for Saylar McGuiness to work in the office.
Wood briefly called Robinson to the stand to ask why, in a phone interview with August, he misled her as to the purpose of his call. As he did in other calls, Robinson told August he was “just looking to see how the [part-time] workforce was utilized.”
Carpenter admonished Wood for suggesting that Robinson was lying. If Robinson had told August he was investigating McGuiness, August could have tipped McGuiness off to the investigation. Carpenter called it a “common investigative technique.”
Wood said the very fact that Robinson sought to conceal the investigation goes to show that McGuiness had no idea she was being investigated and therefore could not intimidate witnesses, as charged in Count 5 of the indictment.
The defense’s final witness was Tracey Mitchell-Rogers, a former fiscal officer responsible for reconciling purchase orders and receipts.
She began working at the auditor’s office after her would-be supervisor unexpectedly quit, leaving Mitchell-Rogers without training or instruction.
Mitchell-Rogers said she was the person who erroneously coded a $1,950 PayPal payment to Innovate Consulting rather than My Campaign Group, something prosecutors have said is proof McGuiness was trying to conceal her payments to the companies, both owned by consultant Christie Gross.
Mitchell-Rogers said the mistake happened because she wasn’t trained yet and had only been instructed to code the purchase to the office’s consultant. Because it wasn’t specified that she should have coded it to My Campaign Group, she coded it to the company which had the most recent contract with the auditor’s office, Innovate Consulting.
Closing statements begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
- Conflict of Interest
- The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McGuiness’ daughter, Saylar McGuiness, benefitted from her employment in a way that other similarly situated employees did not.
- The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Saylar McGuiness’ paychecks were deposited into a starter savings account on which the auditor is named as a co-sponsor and that Saylar shared those funds with McGuiness, or that McGuiness in someway benefitted financially from Saylar’s employment.
- The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McGuiness knowingly and willfully fragmented payments to circumvent state procurement law.
- Official misconduct
- The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McGuiness knowingly and willfully abused the powers of her office to enrich herself or disadvantage someone else.
- The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McGuiness knowingly induced, influenced or impeded a witness or victim by making a false statement, committing fraud or deceiving them with intent to affect their testimony or their availability to testify.
Trial of State Auditor Kathy McGuiness
If found guilty, McGuiness faces between zero and 13 years in prison.
Wednesday marks the tenth day of the trial.
Defense attorney Steve Wood on Tuesday asked Superior Court Judge William Carpenter to issue a judgment of acquittal on each of the five charges against McGuiness — a procedural move that’s typical for this kind of case.
Carpenter said Count 5, witness intimidation, was the charge most likely to be “in play,” but ultimately decided to reserve judgment until after the jury comes to a verdict.
His choices were to grant the motion, partially grant the motion, reserve judgment or deny the motion.
If the jury acquits McGuiness on all five charges, Wood’s request will be moot and Carpenter won’t have to make a decision.
If the jury hands down a guilty verdict on any of the charges, Carpenter has reserved the right to grant Wood’s request at that point and overrule the jury’s decision.
The trial marks the first time in Delaware history that a statewide-elected official has stood trial while in office.
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