RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were convicted Thursday of using his office to promote a dietary supplement in exchange for gifts in a public corruption case that derailed the career of a onetime rising Republican star.
A federal jury convicted Bob McDonnell of 11 of the 13 counts he faced; Maureen McDonnell was convicted of nine of the 13 counts she had faced. Sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 6. Both bowed their heads and wept as a chorus of “guilty” kept coming from the court clerk.
McDonnell was widely considered a possible running mate for presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.
The couple left the courtroom separately and remained apart. Bob McDonnell left first and walked into a witness waiting room; Maureen McDonnell came out later, hugging one of her daughters while weeping loudly. She went into a separate waiting room.
The couple was charged with doing favors for a wealthy vitamin executive in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans. They also were charged with submitting fraudulent bank loan applications, and Maureen McDonnell was charged with one count of obstruction.
The trial was a sensation in political circles in Washington, just over the Virginia state line, as lawyers for McDonnell and his wife provided intimate details of the breakdown of their marriage in hopes of convincing jurors that they could not have conspired because they were barely speaking.
“This is a difficult and disappointing day for the commonwealth and its citizens. Public service frequently requires sacrifice and almost always requires financial sacrifice,” said Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.
The former governor testified in his own defense, insisting that he provided nothing more than routine political courtesies to former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. Maureen McDonnell did not testify. His testimony and that of others exposed embarrassing details about Maureen McDonnell’s erratic behavior and the couple’s marital woes as the defense suggested they could not have conspired because they were barely speaking.
Williams testified under immunity that he spent freely on the McDonnells in order to secure their help promoting his supposed cure-all, the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. Among the gifts were nearly $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories for Maureen McDonnell, a $6,500 Rolex watch for her husband, $15,000 in catering for one of their daughter’s wedding, free vacations and golf outings. Williams also provided three loans totaling $120,000.
As the gifts were being given, the McDonnells attended various Anatabloc promotional events and hosted a luncheon at the governor’s mansion that the company billed as a product launch. Williams also was allowed to invite several of his associates to a reception for Virginia health care leaders at the mansion, and McDonnell arranged meetings for him with two state health officials as he was taking preliminary steps to seek state-backed research on Anatabloc. No applications for research grants were ever submitted.
Prosecutors claimed that the McDonnells turned to Williams because they were grappling with credit card debt that once topped $90,000 and annual operating shortfalls of $40,000 to $60,000 on family-owned vacation rental properties. Two of the loans totaling $70,000 were intended for the two Virginia Beach rent houses. Williams said he wrote the first $50,000 check to Maureen McDonnell after she complained about their money troubles and said she could help his company because of her background selling nutritional supplements.
A number of witnesses, including the former governor, said Maureen McDonnell despised being first lady and was prone to angry outbursts that prompted mansion staff to threaten a mass resignation.
Bob McDonnell said he began working unnecessarily late to avoid Maureen’s wrath and revealed that the two were living apart during the trial. The defense also introduced a September 2011 email from McDonnell to his wife lamenting the deterioration of their marriage, complaining about her “fiery anger” and begging her to work with him to repair the relationship.
Defense attorneys said Maureen McDonnell had a “crush” on Williams, who preyed on her vulnerability. Several witnesses described their relationship as inappropriate and flirtatious. None suggested it was physical, and Williams testified that it was not. He said his relationship with both McDonnells was all about boosting his business.