Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams, the government’s star witness in its corruption case against former Governor Robert McDonnell, ended his testimony saying he never had a “physical or intimate relationship” with the governor’s wife.
“I never had any contact with Maureen McDonnell. Period,” Williams said in response to a prosecutor’s question. “I didn’t know that Ms. McDonnell had any interest in me until this week,” said Williams, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.
While prosecutors used Williams’s four days on the stand to bolster their argument the governor abused his office to help Williams’s business, the McDonnells’ lawyers tried show it was Maureen -- who wasn’t a public official -- who solicited most of the gifts and favors from the entrepreneur. They also sought to show that a personal relationship between Virginia’s first lady and the then-chief executive officer of Star Scientific Inc. fueled conduct the governor was only dimly aware of and that prosecutors charge was illegal.
Williams yesterday expanded on the stream of gifts and loans he gave the McDonnells with the expectation that they would use the governor’s office to enhance the credibility of his company’s dietary supplement, Anatabloc.
He said he was in close contact with Maureen McDonnell, sometimes texting her in the early morning hours, as part of a business relationship he believed would benefit his company. The pair texted, called or e-mailed each other 1,200 times over a period of almost two years ending in February 2013.
Although Williams spent considerable time speaking and traveling with Maureen McDonnell, and sometimes with her husband, he testified that he didn’t know the McDonnells’ marriage was strained.
Maureen, 60, had a “crush” on Williams, defense lawyers said in opening statements, and developed a relationship with him “some might consider inappropriate.” Her husband was an honest public servant who extended the same help to Star Scientific he would give any in-state business, they said.
Among steps the McDonnells took to help Williams was a launch event for Anatabloc at the governor’s mansion in August 2011. Bob McDonnell considered asking thousands of state employees to use the product in a test, according to earlier testimony by Williams.
Robert McDonnell’s lawyer, Henry Asbill, yesterday asked Williams a series of questions seeking to distance his client from conversations between Maureen and Williams, and from the contention that the governor solicited gifts including a $6,500 Rolex watch, $15,000 for a wedding luncheon for the McDonnells’ daughter and a $20,000 shopping spree in New York.
While Williams said “no” repeatedly when asked yesterday whether McDonnell had asked for some of the gifts, he said the governor asked him directly for a $50,000 loan to help bail out a soured real estate investment through a family-owned company called MoBo Real Estate Partners LLC.
Williams and McDonnell met alone in a state office building in Richmond where they discussed allowing the governor to borrow Star Scientific shares for collateral on the loan, according to Williams’s testimony.
Williams said he didn’t like the complexity of the proposed deal and McDonnell didn’t want to have to disclose the stock loan on financial forms required of public officials.
“He said he had disclosure problems,” said Williams, who ended up writing a check for a $50,000 loan to MoBo. Not long afterward, Maureen McDonnell asked for another $20,000 to help with real estate, he said. The McDonnells are charged with lying about the funds Williams provided on an application for a bank loan.
Defense lawyers tried to impeach Williams’s credibility by focusing on the immunity deal he signed on June 5 that protects him against prosecution not only in the McDonnell case but also in an unrelated securities-fraud investigation involving Star Scientific.
Williams stepped down as CEO of the Glen Allen, Virginia-based company in December.
Robert McDonnell, 60, a former up-and-comer in the Republican party once seen as a presidential contender for 2016, faces with his wife, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader, a 14-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, honest-services fraud and making false statements.
They are accused of accepting more than $150,000 in gifts, cash and loans from Williams in exchange for lending the prestige of the governor’s office to promote Anatabloc.
The case is U.S. v. McDonnell, 14-cr-00012, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Richmond).