Complaint Against Christopher J. Castagno

Former Trustee of the New Castle Common

This complaint is presented in three sections below.  Part I summarizes the key facts regarding Christopher Castagno’s conflict of interest. Part II documents that the Trustees of The New Castle Common qualify as a “State Agency” and Mr. Castagno was an “Honorary State Official” under the State Code of Conduct.  Part III specifies the “Violations of Delaware Law” as presented in the statute.

I. Complaint Summary
Christopher Castagno was a Trustee of the New Castle Common first elected in June 2006 and reelected in June 2018 for a second 12 year term.  He resigned on September 1, 2021, for unstated reasons.  Exhibit A of this complaint presents a screenshot of a Trust Property listed on the website of Mr. Castagno’s real estate business at a price of $4,100,000.  The property can be identified as a Trust property by both parcel number and street address as presented in Exhibit A.

The Trust owns the land while the building is owned by the Charter School of New Castle–formerly the Family Foundation.  On his website, Mr. Castagno describes the package as “Multipurpose 40kSF building for SALE with long term land leasehold”.  The lease extends till 2045 at an annual cost of $44,000 representing an aggregate cost of more than $1 million.​

This property was listed on Mr. Castagno’s website while he served as a Trustee and following his resignation.  Exhibit A documents that Mr. Castagno was serving as a real estate agent for Trust property as both a Trustee and as a former Trustee.

II.  Applicability of the State Code of Conduct
As a Trustee of the New Castle Common, Christopher Castagno was an “Honorary State Official” as defined by Chapter 58, Subchapter I known as the State Employees, Officers’ and Officials’ Code of Conduct: 

(6) “Honorary state official” means a person who serves as an appointed member, trustee, director or the like of any state agency and who receives or reasonably expects to receive not more than $5,000 in compensation for such service in a calendar year (not including any reimbursement for expenses).

The above Code of Conduct, defines a “State Agency” as follows:

(11) “State agency” means any office, department, board, commission, committee, court, school district, board of education and all public bodies existing by virtue of an act of the General Assembly or of the Constitution of the State, excepting only political subdivisions of the State…”

The Trustees of The New Castle Common is a non-profit organization created in 1764. Its purpose is to preserve and protect the historic Common lands for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of the town of New Castle. The Trust has financial assets of roughly $7,000,000 and owns about 80 parcels of land comprising roughly 600 acres. 

Here’s a link to a 2017 Attorney General’s opinion which found that the Trust was a “public body”.  At the top of page 4 the opinion states: “The Trustees is a corporation that was created by the General Assembly of Delaware in 1792 to take over 1,000 acres of land owned by William Penn…”  Mr. Castagno was uncompensated when he served as a Trustee and was therefore under the compensation limit for an “Honorary state official.

III. Violations of Delaware Law
Below are selected portions of the Code of Conduct statute which define conflicts of interest by an “honorary state official”.  A violation is defined as any action which would result in a “financial benefit…to
accrue to the person…”  The ability to earn real estate commissions on multi-million-dollar properties represents a substantial financial benefit.

As a Trustee, Mr. Castagno was involved in deciding which Trust properties should be sold or leased as well as sale prices and leasing rates.  As a real estate agent for Trust property, he could benefit directly from these decisions.

Mr. Castagno resigned on September 1, 2021 and is no longer a Trustee.  The Post-employment restrictions in the Code of Conduct state that, “No person who has served as a state employee, state officer or honorary state official shall represent or otherwise assist any private enterprise on any matter involving the State, for a period of 2 years after termination of employment or appointed status with the State…

The Code of Conduct also includes criminal sanctions stating “Any person who knowingly or willfully violates any provision of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable for each such violation by imprisonment of not more than 1 year and by a fine not to exceed $10,000.”

Below are Portions of the Code of Conduct statute which define conflicts of interest by an “honorary state official”.

§ 5805. Prohibitions relating to conflicts of interest.

(a) Restrictions on exercise of official authority. — 

(1) No state employee, state officer or honorary state official may participate on behalf of the State in the review or disposition of any matter pending before the State in which the state employee, state officer or honorary state official has a personal or private interest… A personal or private interest in a matter is an interest which tends to impair a person’s independence of judgment in the performance of the person’s duties with respect to that matter.

(2) A person has an interest which tends to impair the person’s independence of judgment in the performance of the person’s duties with respect to any matter when:

a. Any action or inaction with respect to the matter would result in a financial benefit or detriment to accrue to the person or a close relative to a greater extent than such benefit or detriment would accrue to others who are members of the same class or group of persons; or

b. The person or a close relative has a financial interest in a private enterprise which enterprise or interest would be affected by any action or inaction on a matter to a lesser or greater extent than like enterprises or other interests in the same enterprise.

§ 5806. Code of conduct.

(a) Each state employee, state officer and honorary state official shall endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that such state employee, state officer or honorary state official is engaging in acts which are in violation of the public trust…

(b) No state employee, state officer or honorary state official shall have any interest in any private enterprise nor shall such state employee, state officer or honorary state official incur any obligation of any nature which is in substantial conflict with the proper performance of such duties in the public interest. No state employee, state officer or honorary state official shall accept other employment, any compensation, gift, payment of expenses or any other thing of monetary value under circumstances in which such acceptance may result in any of the following:

(1) Impairment of independence of judgment in the exercise of official duties;

(2) An undertaking to give preferential treatment to any person;

(3) The making of a governmental decision outside official channels; or

(4) Any adverse effect on the confidence of the public in the integrity of the government of the State.

(e) No state employee, state officer or honorary state official shall use such public office to secure unwarranted privileges, private advancement or gain.

(d) Post-employment restrictions. — No person who has served as a state employee, state officer or honorary state official shall represent or otherwise assist any private enterprise on any matter involving the State, for a period of 2 years after termination of employment or appointed status with the State, if the person gave an opinion, conducted an investigation or otherwise was directly and materially responsible for such matter in the course of official duties as a state employee, officer or official. 

Exhibit A

Below is a screenshot from Chris Castagno’s website listing a Trust property for sale at $4,100,000.  The second page of this Exhibit shows a partial list of Trust Properties with Parcel Number (APN) 2101000072 at 1101 Delaware St. listed at the bottom.