Investigator quizzed, prosecutors rest in auditor trial
DOVER, Del. (AP) — The state’s chief investigator endured a withering cross-examination Tuesday as prosecutors rested their case in the criminal corruption trial of Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness.
Franklin Robinson was bombarded with questions from defense attorney Steve Wood about false and misleading statements he made under oath in a sworn search warrant affidavit and again in testimony before a grand jury.
Robinson even denied writing the search warrant affidavit, saying it was done by “a team,” although he made no such assertion in a prior evidence suppression hearing.
McGuiness, a Democrat elected in 2018, is responsible as state auditor for rooting out government fraud, waste and abuse. She is being tried on felony counts of theft and witness intimidation, and misdemeanor charges of official misconduct, conflict of interest and noncompliance with procurement laws. McGuiness is the first statewide elected official in Delaware to face criminal prosecution while in office.
Robinson was peppered Tuesday with questions about allegations that McGuiness orchestrated a no-bid communications services contract for My Campaign Group, a firm she had used as a campaign consultant when running for lieutenant governor in 2016, then deliberately kept the contract payments under $5,000 to avoid having to get them approved by the Division of Accounting.
Robinson told a judge in a search warrant affidavit in 2021 that payments to My Campaign Group were split in August 2020, and again in September 2020, to keep them under $5,000, the threshold at which payments by state agencies require approval from the Division of Accounting. In fact, Robinson and lawyers in the attorney general’s office had seen a Division of Accounting spreadsheet about two months earlier indicating that My Campaign Group owner Christie Gross received only one payment each month, both above $5,000 and both approved by the Division of Accounting.
Robinson also falsely stated in the affidavit that the contract with My Campaign Group was the only no-bid contract of at least $45,000 entered into by McGuiness’ office in which all payments were below $5,000.
In the affidavit, Robinson described My Campaign Group as a “political campaign consultancy,” neglecting to tell the judge that the firm also provided non-campaign policy services to government officials in several states. Wood said Robinson implied in the affidavit that McGuiness improperly hired Gross strictly for political campaign purposes even though Gross had told Robinson months earlier that she was helping McGuiness with projects involving prescription drug costs to taxpayers and coronavirus relief programs.
Despite the false statements and omissions, Robinson swore in the affidavit seeking a search warrant that he had not excluded any fact or circumstance that would tend to defeat the establishment of probable cause that McGuiness had committed a crime.
“Your testimony under oath is that all of those things you left out ... would not have affected the judge’s decision?” Wood asked.
“I don’t believe so,” replied Robinson, who has almost 30 years of experience as a police officer and investigator.
Wood also asserted that Robinson and prosecutors deliberately lied in implying that a part-time employee in the auditor’s office was laid off in 2020 so McGuiness’ daughter could be brought on board, and that two others stopped working around the same time because of a “lack of available work” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Emails and other documents indicate that the employee who purportedly was laid off had already planned to leave and was denied unemployment insurance benefits because she voluntarily resigned.
Another employee said in a resignation letter that she was moving to New Jersey with her husband to take care of her mother, while the third was asked to resign after telling McGuiness in a text that she would not be able to work for several months because she had lost her baby sitter and did not have child care.
Robinson acknowledged that he didn’t try to obtain the emails and texts showing the circumstances under which the employees left.
“That’s fair,” he responded when Wood said he “didn’t bother to look.”
Prosecutors also allege that McGuiness hired her daughter and her daughter’s best friend as temporary employees in 2020, even though others were forced to leave because of the lack of available work. Authorities allege that in hiring her daughter and exercising control over taxpayer money with which she was paid, McGuiness engaged in theft of state money and conflict of interest. Prosecutors say Elizabeth “Saylar” McGuiness’ paycheck went into a joint bank account she shared with her mother.
“You have zero evidence that Saylar gave any money to her mother. That’s a fact, right?” Wood asked.
“Correct,” Robinson replied.
Robinson also acknowledged that he never told the grand jury that several part-time workers in the auditor’s office had access to Kathy McGuiness’ state vehicle. Authorities have claimed that access to the vehicle was a special privilege afforded to her daughter but not other part-time employees.