The former first lady of Virginia was either a puppet, with her husband pulling the strings, or a conspirator in a scheme to trade influence for gifts, depending on whether jurors believe the defense or prosecutors in her and former Governor Robert F. McDonnell’s corruption trial.
The prosecution and defense lawyers made their final arguments to the jury in the federal trial in Richmond, Virginia, where the state’s former first couple faces a 14-count indictment stemming from their acceptance of more than $170,000 in gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams
McDonnell, once seen as a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016, and his wife, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader, are charged with conspiracy, honest-services fraud and making false statements. They’re accused of accepting the gifts and loans in exchange for using state resources, such as hosting a 2011 luncheon, to promote Williams’s dietary supplement Anatabloc.
“Is hosting a luncheon an official act? Of course it was,” said David Harbach, the prosecutor. “What matters most of all is that Mr. McDonnell showed up,” even as his state was recovering from an earthquake, facing a hurricane and a shutdown of a nuclear power plant, the prosecutor said.
“That is bribery,” he said. “That is corruption.”
If convicted, the couple faces as long as 30 years in prison, fines and possible forfeitures. Jurors are scheduled to begin their deliberations Sept. 2.
McDonnell testified he didn’t give Williams any special treatment. He said his administration only provided the businessman “routine access to government.”
“Jonnie didn’t get anything,” McDonnell’s lawyer, Henry Asbill, told the jury today. “Bribery requires a quid and a quo. This is all quid and no quo.”
The government failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by the former governor, Asbill said.
Bill Burck, Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer, argued that his client didn’t do anything wrong either.
“Maureen was a puppet and Mr. McDonnell was a puppet master, pulling the strings,” Burck told the jury.
The government’s case is based almost entirely on the word of Williams, who made a deal with prosecutors and testified against the McDonnells in order to get out of an unrelated securities investigation, Burck said.
“A case based on the word of Jonnie Williams is the very definition of reasonable doubt,” the lawyer said.
Harbach painted the jury a picture of a couple in financial trouble, having racked up $74,904 in credit card debt when McDonnell took office.
“We are in trouble,” Maureen Carney McDonnell, the former governor’s sister and partner in MoBo Real Estate Partners, wrote him, according to Harbach. They were in so much trouble, they were exploring short sales and bankruptcy, Harbach said.
The case is U.S. v. McDonnell, 14-cr-00012, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Richmond).
To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Galuszka in federal court in Richmond, Virginia, at email@example.com