Delaware auditor pleads not guilty in felony indictment amid calls for resignation

Delaware State Auditor Kathleen McGuiness

Delaware State Auditor Kathleen McGuiness (State of Delaware / youtube)

It was business as usual for the Delaware auditor’s office Tuesday morning, as Kathy McGuinness issued the results of her routine investigation into the finances of the Cape Henlopen School District. That audit found nothing out of place.

It was far from business as usual for McGuinness herself, however. She spent part of the morning in a Wilmington courtroom, being arraigned on charges including nepotism, fraud, and witness intimidation. McGuinness seems poised to fight to remain in office while contesting the charges.

She pleaded not guilty on all charges. Her lawyer, former state prosecutor Steve Wood, said McGuinness “will continue to work hard on behalf of Delaware’s taxpayers and intends to focus on the job that she was elected to do.”

His emailed statement went on to describe the allegations made Monday by Attorney General Kathy Jennings as “full of misleading statements and half-truths.”

The indictment accuses McGuinness of hiring her daughter and a friend as temporary workers last May. Prosecutors said daughter Elizabeth McGuinness continued to receive pay even after enrolling in a South Carolina college last August. She has not been charged. Jennings says payments to the younger McGuinness totaling $19,000 were deposited in an account in which the auditor herself is listed as an owner. Her daughter’s friend was paid more than $7,700.

Wood claims Elizabeth McGuinness was working remotely during the pandemic, adding that “Delaware law does not prohibit family members from hiring family members, and there have been many instances of such employment all throughout state government — including in the Attorney General’s Office.”

Delaware Democratic Party chair Betsy Maron called the indictment announcement “incredibly troubling.” In a statement emailed to WHYY News, she called for McGuinness to step down.

“It is clear that Kathy McGuiness cannot be trusted to do her job in accordance with the law. It would be a disservice to every Delawarean for her to continue in her role,” Maron said.

“When Delaware Democrats supported Kathy McGuiness, they did so on the promise that she would serve as a watchdog to prevent waste and abuse and uphold the highest ethical standard of transparency and fiscal responsibility. Our volunteers and voters put their faith in her to do right by the people of Delaware. To see that she broke the public’s trust while executing her official duties is disheartening and downright embarrassing to our Party.”

Democratic State Rep. Eric Morrison joined Maron’s resignation call, posting a statement on Facebook. “Delawareans deserve much better than this. I call upon State Auditor McGuiness to resign her position immediately,” Morrison’s post said. “These indictments should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed State Auditor McGuiness’ political and public career,” he said, as she had never been employed in any auditing-related work prior to her election.

Democratic State Rep. Paul Baumbach issued a similar statement Tuesday afternoon.

“I therefore call for the Auditor of Accounts to submit her resignation now, to enable the office to focus on meeting its obligations to all Delawareans without these distractions, and without a prolonged reduction in the public’s trust that Delaware cannot afford,” Baumbach said.

A spokesman for Republicans in the State House said GOP leadership had no comment on whether McGuinness should resign, adding they don’t think “there should be any rush to judgement before this deliberative, fact-based process has fully unfolded.”

Gov. John Carney’s office did not immediately return WHYY’s request for comment.

The process for impeaching an elected official in Delaware is similar to the federal procedures for unseating a president. The state House can vote to impeach, followed by a trial in the state Senate. Votes in both chambers must be by two-thirds majority. According to state code, impeachable offenses include “treason, bribery, or any high crime or misdemeanor in office.”

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