DOVER, De (AP) - A former chief of staff to Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness admitted during testimony in her criminal corruption trial Thursday that he lied under oath to a grand jury that was investigating McGuiness.
Thomas Van Horn acknowledged under cross-examination by the defense that he told the grand jury in April 2021 that McGuiness had fired him a month earlier because of “disagreements” they had.
In fact, McGuiness asked Van Horn to resign because he had been in a sexual relationship with a subordinate staffer.
Van Horn also acknowledged that he never volunteered information to prosecutors and investigators about his relationship with Rachael King, who also is expected to testify. Instead, he claimed that he was terminated because McGuiness had heard a “potential rumor of a sexual relationship” with someone in the office, and that he might be a victim of “defamation.”
“When you said it was a rumor, that was a lie, because it was a true story, wasn’t it?” defense attorney Steve Wood asked Van Horn.
“Yes,” replied Van Horn, who moments later contradicted himself and denied any sexual relationship.
“What is the definition of a sexual relationship?” asked Van Horn, who in earlier testimony agreed with prosecutor Mark Denney that his former relationship with King could be described as “romantic.” In a recorded interview earlier this year, he told Denney that he and King “made out here and there” but never had a sexual relationship.
Wood’s cross-examination came after the judge, outside the jury’s presence, held a long private conversation with attorneys before reminding Van Horn that he was under oath and required to tell the truth.
“I assure you sir you do not want to mess with this judge if you’re lying,” Carpenter told Van Horn sternly.
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.
Prosecutors allege, among other things, that McGuiness hired her daughter and her best friend as temporary employees in 2020, even though other temporary employees had left because of the lack of available work amid the coronavirus pandemic. 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 also have alleged 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. They also contend that she deliberately kept the contract payments under $5,000 each to avoid having to get them approved by the state Division of Accounting. The owner of My Campaign Group, Christie Gross, successfully bid on a second contract after forming a new company called Innovate Consulting. Gross has testified that McGuiness never told her to submit a bill for less than $5,000. She also described the auditor’s office as a “disaster” that “lacked professionalism,” and testified that she had urged McGuiness to fire Van Horn immediately after learning about his relationship with King.
In the fall of 2020, Van Horn approached deputy attorney general Patricia Davis, who was assigned to the auditor’s office, with concerns about how the office was being run. Davis suggested that he call Frank Robinson, an investigator with the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust.
Van Horn said he approached Davis after McGuiness told him to use his state credit card to pay off the overdue final balance on the My Campaign Group contract, which had exceeded the initial budget allocation of $45,000. Van Horn said McGuiness stood over his shoulder while he made the Pay Pal transaction, making him “uncomfortable.”
In a November 2020 call with Robinson, however, Van Horn never mentioned the credit card incident. He instead made vague references to contracts entered into by McGuiness with a “political person” and complained that the office was undertaking a lot of “special reports” on policy issues that were taking away from auditing work it is required to do.
He also complained to Robinson that a request for proposals that led to Gross successfully bidding on the contract awarded to Innovate was drawn up by a young staffer, rather than a veteran staffer who normally handled such duties. Van Horn testified Thursday that he was pressured by McGuiness’ executive assistant to score Gross’ bid higher than another firm’s competing bid, but he never mentioned that in his call to Robinson.
Van Horn also testified that he never interviewed McGuiness’ daughter, Elizabeth, for the part-time job she began in May 2020, contradicting the daughter’s testimony from Wednesday.
Testimony resumes Friday.