Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s former chef, who has given the FBI evidence on his ex-boss, will face a special prosecutor in his embezzlement case after a judge let Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli withdraw over conflicts.
Virginia Circuit Judge Margaret Spencer of Richmond today ruled that Greg Underwood, the commonwealth attorney in Norfolk, would take over the prosecution of Todd Schneider, the ex-chef at the executive mansion. Cuccinelli asked the judge to let him quit the case, arguing in part that a possible witness works for a company raising money for his Republican gubernatorial bid.
“The court will find there is a conflict and grant recusal,” Spencer said during the 20-minute hearing.
She said she would rule later on Schneider’s request that the charges against him be dismissed because Cuccinelli had multiple conflicts of interest when he decided to prosecute him for allegedly embezzling food from the mansion’s kitchen.
Schneider, in an April 29 filing, alleged he was being prosecuted for telling federal and state investigators about “wrongdoing” by the governor involving gifts received from Star Scientific Inc.’s chief executive officer.
Schneider said that during interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation last year he described gifts to the McDonnells from Star Scientific’s CEO Jonnie Williams including $15,000 payments for their daughter’s wedding in June 2011, a vacation that year and the use of expensive cars and a private jet.
Cuccinelli’s own ties to Williams weren’t disclosed during a March 8 meeting Schneider had with investigators at the attorney general’s office or in prior conversations Schneider’s lawyer had with a senior prosecutor, according to the filing.
During the summer, Cuccinelli sold 1,500 shares of Star Scientific stock for a $7,000 profit and vacationed at the Williams home, according to the filing. He also amended his 2012 state financial disclosure form to show his ownership of Star Scientific stock.
Talhia Tuck, a spokeswoman for Star, said in an e-mail on May 1 that the company “neither sought nor received any special benefits from any public official.”
Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Cuccinelli, said in a May 1 e-mail that the “case will be tried in court and not in the media.” Cuccinelli filed his motion to withdraw from the case on April 26.
Star Scientific, a maker of smokeless tobacco products and nutritional supplements based in Glen Allen, Virginia, disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in March that it had received subpoenas from federal prosecutors seeking information on 2006 transactions.
“I don’t ever do anything, whether it’s with Mr. Williams or his company -- or any other person or any other company -- to give anybody any special treatment,” McDonnell said in an interview April 30 at Bloomberg’s Washington Summit.
The case is Virginia v. Schneider, CR13F-1960, Circuit Court for the Commonwealth of Virginia (Richmond).