Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Robert F. McDonnell, the former governor of Virginia, was convicted along with his wife of trading political influence for loans and gifts, prompting the state attorney general to call for ethics reform.
Robert McDonnell, once seen as a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016, and his wife Maureen, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader, were accused of misusing state resources for the benefit of businessman Jonnie Williams. In exchange for helping Williams promote the dietary supplement Anatabloc, the cash-strapped McDonnells were showered with gifts such as private plane flights, golf trips and a $20,000 shopping spree for Maureen, according to prosecutors.
A federal jury of seven men and five women in Richmond, Virginia, in the third day of deliberations following a five-week trial, today found Robert McDonnell guilty of 11 charges in his 13-count indictment. Maureen was convicted of nine of 13 counts.
Both Robert and Maureen McDonnell began sobbing as the guilty verdicts were read, as did their daughter and some supporters in the courtroom. The McDonnells face as long as 30 years in prison. They’re scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 6.
“Thank you all for the way you handled this,” Robert McDonnell told reporters as he left the court house and got into a silver sedan. Maureen got into a separate car and left without comment.
Robert and Maureen McDonnell were both convicted of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud, honest-services wire fraud, conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right and obtaining the property under color of official right. Maureen was also convicted of obstruction, while Robert was cleared of charges that he gave false statements.
“We have a long way to go to restore the public’s trust after this embarrassing and difficult period for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” state Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, said in a statement issued after the verdicts were read. “If there was somehow still any doubt, it should be crystal clear that the people of Virginia deserve real ethics reform.”
Williams, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, told the jury that at Maureen McDonnell’s request he paid about $6,500 for a Rolex at a jewelry store in Malibu, California. The watch, which Maureen gave her husband after having it inscribed with his name and “71st Governor of Virginia,” was entered into evidence and passed among the jurors.
“I shouldn’t have had to buy things like that to get the things I needed,” Williams said. “It was a bad business decision.”
He asked them to “lend credibility” to Anatabloc by hosting promotional events and pressuring state officials to perform clinical studies on the product, he said.
The McDonnells hosted a 2011 luncheon at the governor’s mansion to promote Anatabloc, according to prosecutors.
“Is hosting a luncheon an official act? Of course it was,” David Harbach, the prosecutor, told the jury in closing arguments. “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.”
McDonnell testified for almost 24 hours over several days and said he didn’t give Williams any special treatment. He said his administration only provided the businessman “routine access to government.”
He also disputed prosecutors’ allegations he and his wife conspired in the scheme. McDonnell described his troubled marriage and said the couple split up in the weeks before the trial and he’s staying at the rectory of a Catholic priest, who is a friend.
McDonnell also blamed his wife for seeking money from Williams.
She had borrowed $6,000 from her chief of staff and accepted a $50,000 check from Williams, McDonnell testified.
She used the money to pay off credit cards and buy shares of Star Scientific, Williams’s company, McDonnell said.
“I was upset,” the former governor testified. “We had no reason to borrow the money.”
Robert McDonnell was cleared by the jury of giving a false statement to a financial institution by not declaring a debt he owed to Williams. Both McDonnells were found not guilty of giving false statements to another financial institution by failing to list loans provided by Williams.
U.S. Attorney Dana Boente called it a “difficult and disappointing day” for the people of Virginia.
“Public service almost always requires financial sacrifice,” he 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com Joe Schneider, Andrew Dunn