Jury selection in the public corruption trial for former Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory began Tuesday morning.
Gregory, 67, faces criminal charges for using his position on City Council to secure a taxpayer grant that would enrich both himself and a nonprofit he founded.
He was originally indicted in 2019 on charges of profiteering and official misconduct. Prosecutors modified the charges against him last month. At trial, he faces two counts of official misconduct and a count of profiteering, all misdemeanors.
Delaware Online/The News Journal first revealed that Gregory secured the city grant in a 2017 investigation.
It found that as outgoing council president in late 2016, Gregory marked $40,000 in city grant funds to go toward a defunct nonprofit he had founded and had recently resurrected. His successor as city council president, Hanifa Shabazz, approved the grant when she took office.
The grant for Student Disabilities Advocate, Inc., included $20,000 for Gregory personally – at least $15,000 of which he has acknowledged pocketing.
Ahead of the start of trial on Tuesday, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Gregory's attorney, asked the judge to dismiss most of the charges against the 38-year member of City Council.
First, Fitzpatrick cut at prosecutors' theory that Gregory revived the nonprofit while anticipating taking official action to benefit the organization through the grant – the basis of the profiteering charge specifically.
Fitzpatrick argued that the nonprofit was created in 1996, decades before the grant transaction, and it was never dissolved. He said because of this, Gregory never "acquired a pecuniary interest" in the organization as he sought to take official action to benefit it, as the law disallows.
Deputy Attorney General David Skoranski argued that Gregory taking official action with the state's Division of Corporations to revive the nonprofit is an acceptable foundation for the criminal charge.
Fitzpatrick also took aim at the legal theory that Gregory committed official
misconduct by failing to conduct an official duty of the office. In prosecutors' theory, that duty he failed to perform was abstaining from routing public money to his own benefit.
Fitzpatrick argued that prosecutors were construing the law too broadly and none of Gregory's actions would trigger the official misconduct criminal charge.
"There is no such duty," Fitzpatrick said. "If that were the case, no private business owner would run for public office."
He likened it to a city official that owned a piece of property that would benefit from a city construction project. He said the public official would need to abstain from voting on the project, but would be allowed to passively benefit from it.
Skoranski, the prosecutor, argued that Gregory failed to perform his official duty both by failing not to profit from an official action and that he used his authority to pressure Shabazz into approving the grant.
Ultimately, the judge ruled that a grand jury, which indicted Gregory, found the evidence sufficient to be heard by a jury at trial and he allowed the case to move forward.
It has been years in the making as criminal cases throughout the courts have been delayed by the pandemic.
In the intervening years, a state auditor's report and an independent investigation found that Gregory's actions violated provisions of the Wilmington City Code.
In 2019, Gregory settled a case with the Wilmington Ethics Commission, admitting that his actions violated one section of the city code. He received a public reprimand for that admission.