Cecil County Exec McCarthy Sues Danielle Hornberger, Election Board, Claims ‘Fraud;’ Elections Deputy Leaves Post

July 27, 2020

A CECIL TIMES Special Report

Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy has filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the results of the June Republican primary, saying that his winning rival, Danielle Hornberger, failed to qualify for the ballot and that some documents were falsified and backdated to cover up a “conspiracy” to violate the law. He is also seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction to keep Hornberger’s name off the November general election ballot.

It was a bold move by McCarthy, who suffered a stunning re-election defeat in the primary to Hornberger, who garnered more than 60 percent of the vote in a four-candidate GOP contest. Hornberger, who has never held any elective office or substantive full-time job, is the wife of Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-35) and has worked as a part-time district representative for US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), who helped bankroll both Hornbergers’ political campaigns.

But documents included as exhibits in the lawsuit which was filed in Cecil County Circuit Court on Saturday 7/25/2020, as well as materials obtained separately by CECIL TIMES under a Public Information Act request, show an effort to file potentially false financial disclosure documents on behalf of, or by, Mrs. Hornberger. Those disclosure documents are required of all candidates under state election law and local Cecil County ethics laws. Under state elections law, a candidate for elected office must file a financial disclosure statement at the same time as a certificate of candidacy is filed and no candidate may be certified for inclusion on an elections ballot without the financial filing.

The irregularities cited in the lawsuit, as well as other documents, suggest potentially criminal wrongdoing of a serious nature. Violations of state election laws and potential corruption are prosecuted by the Office of the State Prosecutor (OSP), a totally independent state agency with a long history of standing up to and bringing down powerful politicians, including the former mayor of Baltimore recently. In addition, a referral has been made to the Cecil County State’s Attorney for investigation of alleged emails between Mrs. Hornberger and an election official, although a local prosecutor’s jurisdiction is often superseded by the state OSP’s broad powers, which include subpoena authority and are not limited by local jurisdiction.

Hornberger officially filed as a candidate for County Executive on 11/5/2019, according to BOE records. She had previously filed documents for creation of her campaign committee on 9/4/2019. For months she and her husband posted teaser comments on social media, asking people to “guess” what elective office she would seek, before finally announcing her run for County Executive at a fundraising event.

In late June of this year, questions began to surface about whether Hornberger had filed the required financial disclosure statement, with both the Board of Elections and the Cecil County Ethics Commission, for which record keeping is handed by the county’s Human Resources (HR) department. Searches of the county HR records, Circuit Court records and the local and state BOE records, as well as the State Ethics Commission, were conducted but no financial disclosure forms were found by state and local officials, according to the court filings.

Then, after communications between the HR department and the BOE and their legal counsels, suddenly on /7/7/2020, a Hornberger financial disclosure statement, that was dated 11/5/2019, was hand-delivered to the county HR department, which recorded receipt of the document on its automated time stamp machine at 11.20 a.m. Copies of the document included in the court filings, as well as a document obtained separately by CECIL TIMES, show there was no date or time stamp from the BOE office, only the hand-written date next to Mrs. Hornberger’s signature.

But then an hour or so later, the filings note, a second copy of the document was hand-delivered to the HR department—now bearing a large, bright red time and date stamp purportedly emanating from the Board of Elections office and listing a printed 11/5/2019 date stamp. The second document was logged in by the automated HR agency time stamp at 12.32 p.m. on 7/7/2020.

According to the lawsuit, the documents were delivered by Lora Walters, the longtime deputy director of the Cecil County Board of Elections (BOE), to the county HR department “unexpectedly” and only after “Walters communicated with Danielle Hornberger.” After delivering the first document, without a BOE time stamp, she returned an hour or so later to the HR department with another copy of the document, this time bearing the red BOE time stamp and asked that the earlier document be given back to her. According to the court filings, she was told it was the HR department’s policy to retain all records for four years. The court filings also note that the BOE has a hand-operated time stamp machine that can be manipulated, instead of a fully automated, electronic time stamp system.

In response to a CECIL TIMES inquiry, the local BOE confirmed that Lora Walters was no longer employed by the agency, having left employment on 7/15/2020. By that time, questions had already been raised about her possible role in supplying the questioned documents to the other county agency. It could not be learned if she resigned voluntarily, or was asked to resign, or fired and if so, by whom. She was a veteran employee of the local BOE, having worked there for more than 20 years, according to social media posts on accounts that have now been disabled.

The document muddle was particularly clumsy since the text of the document purportedly signed by Mrs. Hornberger on 11/5/2019 did not exist on that date. The county Ethics Commission agreed to amend the text on the disclosure form at its 11/18/2019 meeting and the revisions on the form were not implemented until December, 2019. The documents supplied by Walters used the post-December text that did not exist on the forms in official use on 11/5/2019.

McCarthy’s lawsuit asks the Circuit Court to rule that the filing of the dubious financial disclosure documents was a “fraud” on the government, voters and the electoral system and that it appeared that Mrs. Hornberger had “willfully” signed a “fraudulent document.”

Due to the fraudulent activity, Mrs. Hornberger’s win in the primary should be declared void because she was never a qualified candidate and should not have been included on the ballot under state and county law, the lawsuit claims. McCarthy furthermore asks for a court order that she be barred from inclusion on the November general election ballot and that he should be named the winner of the primary, as the second-highest vote-getter in the primary.

The sudden departure of the county BOE’s second-in-command official, and the inquiries into her potential involvement in questionable document filings, is just the latest in a series of controversial activities involving the local BOE this year. The newest member of the oversight panel, Scott Mesneak, was appointed unilaterally by Vincent Sammons, the chair of the local Cecil County Republican Central Committee, without a vote of the full committee as required by state party rules and the local committee’s bylaws. Mesneak was a highly visible supporter of Hornberger’s candidacy.

After CECIL TIMES exposed the apparent conflict of interest, a meeting of the local BOE was held at which Mesneak was asked to recuse himself from any BOE decisions involving the county executive’s race and, after much too-ing and fro-ing, he eventually agreed to recuse but held on to his seat on the panel.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2020/05/mesneak-hornberger-backer-and-fired-county-employee-belatedly-agrees-to-recuse-himself-from-board-of-elections-decisions-on-county-exec-race/]

[UPDATE: Late Monday evening, Mrs. Hornberger issued a statement on her campaign’s social media page in response to the lawsuit that was filed against her as well as the county’s Board of Elections:

“It is my understanding that Alan McCarthy has filed suit against the Cecil County Board of Elections challenging the legitimate will of the Republican primary voters who overwhelmingly elected me in the June primary to be Cecil County’s Republican County Executive nominee. I categorically reject the false and libelous accusations in this sore loser’s lawsuit, and look forward to the suit being dismissed just like the voters dismissed him. For obvious reasons, until the lawsuit is shortly resolved in my favor, I will defer to my lawyers for any additional comment while the action is pending.”]

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