State Prosecutor Opens Criminal Probe in Hornberger Campaign Case, Court Told; Ex-Election Aide Denies Forgery; Judge to Rule Next Week

August 14, 2020

A day-long hearing in a Cecil County Circuit Court case seeking to void Danielle Hornberger’s apparently winning campaign for County Executive in the Republican primary election brought new allegations of potential document forgeries and additional revelations of behind-the-scenes contacts between Hornberger and a local elections board official. In addition, it was disclosed for the first time that the Office of the State Prosecutor (OSP) has officially launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

Judge Thomas G. Ross, formerly a Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court judge now on senior status and who is hearing the case here, said he would consider the testimony and evidence and render a decision in five days, or Tuesday 8/18/2020.

A surprise witness, Lora Walters, the now ousted former deputy director of the local BOE, testified, despite warnings that she could face legal jeopardy if she waived her Fifth Amendment rights. She said she “wanted to tell my story” and denied forging any documents. She had been summoned to appear as a witness, but had avoided being served with the summons, yet she showed up at the hearing without a lawyer. An amended complaint also named Walters as a defendant in the case, which was filed by current County Executive Alan McCarthy, the second-place finisher in the GOP primary.

There were several “Perry Mason” moments in the courtroom, provided by McCarthy’s lawyer, Timothy F. Maloney. Foremost among them came in a new revelation that, in addition to the initial questions surrounding Hornberger’s signature on a required Financial Disclosure form and apparent backdating of the document, there were also questions of possible forgery surrounding required filings in the creation of Hornberger’s campaign finance committee and the official appointment of a campaign treasurer.

In the courtroom, Maloney asked Hornberger’s designated campaign treasurer, George A. Parker, to take his drivers’ license out of his wallet and show it to the court. Shortly thereafter, Maloney produced a copy of Parker’s signature allegedly written on an official Hornberger campaign document and compared it with the license signature. Parker commented on individual letters looking similar or dissimilar but eventually indicated that the document signature was not his own.

Then Maloney produced a copy of Parker’s voter registration signature, filed when he was a young man in his 20’s, which listed his name and signature as “G. Allan Parker” and which Parker said he has not used as his signature in many years. Parker was uncertain if he had ever signed and filed the campaign treasurer documents for Hornberger’s campaign.

Under questioning by Maloney, Ruie Lavoie, the director of the local BOE, testified that she found a document in board files purporting to bear Parker’s signature and which used his “voter ID number” instead of the normal driver’s license identification usually listed when people file a campaign finance form. She said it appeared to be written in Walters’ handwriting and the signature was the same as on the decades-old voter registration file, which a BOE employee would have access to.

But Walters denied forging Parker’s signature when she testified, despite warnings from Maloney and the judge that she could face legal jeopardy in doing so. That was when Maloney declared to the court, “As an officer of the court” he said, “We are aware that the Office of the State Prosecutor has opened a file in this matter.”

The OSP is empowered under state law to investigate violations of election laws, as well as possible criminal activity. It is official policy of the OSP not to confirm or deny publicly whether it has opened an investigation, although legal officials may become aware of inquiries through legal channels.

CECIL TIMES has reviewed campaign finance committee statements of organization for Hornberger’s campaign finance committee and state BOE electronic records show no signature or check mark in a box accepting the position of her campaign treasurer position by Parker on three separate filings.

The state records list Hornberger as filing three campaign finance committee statements—two on the same date of 9/4/19 and another document entered into the BOE records on 11/12/19—after she filed her formal declaration of candidacy on 11/5/2019. They are all stamped ‘original’ on the documents but normally only the first one filed on 9/4/19 is considered the ‘original. and subsequent changes are considered “amended” reports.

But her named campaign treasurer, Parker, never signed the documents and there was no check mark in the box next to the statement that “I accept” the position of treasurer, and which goes on to state the duties of that position.

If Hornberger indeed did not have a valid campaign finance committee and properly signed treasurer statement it could mean at the very least that her first campaign fundraiser, held on 10/3/2019, illegally collected campaign contributions. Under state election law, no campaign funds may be collected or spent until the finance committee and treasurer are officially established. {See previous CECIL TIMES report on Hornberger’s October fundraiser and campaign finance committee. ]

In court testimony, Walters said she did not backdate or alter a Hornberger financial disclosure statement, required of all candidates for local office at the time of filing their candidacy papers. She said she found an original Hornberger candidacy document, dated 11/5/2019, in early July, 2020 after questions were raised by state BOE officials. She said she found it “in a file cabinet in my office” and the document was ”in between files.”

Walters said it made no sense to claim she would have risked her career to falsify documents for Hornberger: “Why would jeopardize 20 years of state employment…for Hornberger, whom I do not even know.”

Walters claimed that someone was trying to “frame” her and said “maybe they should do an investigation of everyone else in the office.” Walters went on to accuse the local BOE director, Lavoie, of possible retaliation against her for having filed a complaint accusing the director of “harassment” and other misconduct. On further testimony, Lavoie said Walters’ complaint was “dismissed” and in fact Walters was reprimanded.

Testimony and evidence entered during the hearing laid out a series of documents and emails showing contacts via email, and apparent phone calls, between Hornberger and Walters in early July, 2020 and the filing of an apparently backdated financial disclosure document. CECIL TIMES reported previously on details of the documents and emails, obtained independently by CECIL TIMES through records requests under the state Public Information Act. [Read a detailed account in this Special Report here: ]

During the hearing, Hornberger testified she took a laid-back approach to her official campaign and candidacy filings, saying she never submitted fully completed documents and brought incomplete documents to the BOE and let officials there tell her what to do in complying with regulations. “I would have done whatever Ms. Walters asked me to do because this was the first time I had done this,” Hornberger said. “All of this was very confusing to a first-time candidate.,” she said. (Her husband, Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-35) has routinely filed candidacy and campaign finance documents during the past six years.)

She said she didn’t recall whether her treasurer, Parker, accompanied her to the local BOE to file documents, after previously indicating otherwise, after Maloney presented BOE visitor logs showing no entries for Parker within a week of the 11/5/2019 date on which she filed her official certificate of candidacy application.

Hornberger also testified that Walters told her, in a 7/7/2020 phone call, that a new financial disclosure form emailed by Hornberger on that date would be “back-dated” in official files to 11/5/2019, when it should have been filed but was not found in official files for that date. Hornberger said she didn’t voice any concerns about possible alteration of the date— “I didn’t think there was anything fishy” because “I just assumed it was some Board of Elections office lingo. Whatever.”

Hornberger’s lawyers, Dirk Haire—the chairman of the state Republican Party—and his wife, Jessica Haire, who is also an Anne Arundel County Council member—raised procedural questions and sought a delay in the court hearing. They also contended that McCarthy should be required to post a “bond” of nearly $400,000 to indemnify Hornberger for “damages,” based on the salary of a county executive over a four-year term. (There is still a general election, in which the GOP nominee is being challenged by a Democratic candidate, so Hornberger’s election is not assured.) The judge rejected their procedural claims and proceeded to hold the hearing.

Meanwhile, Maloney said that an option for the judge, if Hornberger’s candidacy is ruled invalid, would be to leave it up to the Republican Central Committee to pick a replacement GOP nominee for the November general election ballot.

But that would hand the decision to Vincent Sammons, the committee chairman and a staunch supporter of Hornberger in the primary both personally and in his official committee role, despite party rules that the committee should remain neutral in a primary. Sammons controls a majority of the committee, including many who were hand-picked by Sammons to fill vacant positions.

Sammons was already salivating at the prospect Friday afternoon, posting on his Facebook page, for which Cecil Times obtained a screenshot, that “The Central Committee will appoint someone, most likely the same person that had 60 percent in the Cecil County primary”—namely, Danielle Hornberger. It is unclear, legally, if someone who is disqualified by a court order could then be reinstated to the ballot by the Central Committee.

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