Ex-Governor McDonnell and Wife Convicted After Corruption Trial

9/4/14
 
   < < Go Back
 
from The New York Times,
9/4/14:

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and his wife, Maureen, were convicted of corruption in federal court on Thursday, after a trial that halted the political ascent of the one-time Republican star and peeled back the couple’s private life to the bone.

As he was pronounced guilty on 11 counts of conspiracy, bribery and extortion, Mr. McDonnell covered his face with his hands and his head fell nearly to the defense table. His wife, convicted on nine counts, looked straight ahead. There were sobs from the seats behind them where their five adult children sat.

The 7-man, 5-woman jury returned its findings on the third day of deliberations here in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Both McDonnells, who now face years in prison, were acquitted of lesser charges of making false statements on loan applications, while Ms. McDonnell was convicted on a charge she alone faced, of obstructing a grand jury investigation by trying to make a gift of $20,000 worth of designer dresses and shoes appear to have been a loan.

“This is a difficult, disappointing day for the Commonwealth,” said Dana J. Boente, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “When public officials turn to financial gain for official actions, we have little choice but to prosecute the case.”

Asked if Mr. McDonnell would appeal, his lawyer, Henry W. Asbill, said, “Of course,” adding that he was “shocked” by the verdict.

Defense lawyers claimed that the McDonnells were being targeted by an overzealous Justice Department, which was treating common political courtesies by a public official for a supporter as criminal offenses.

Adam Lee, the F.B.I. agent in charge of the Richmond office, offered a different view outside the courthouse on Thursday. “I think this case sends an important message that the F.B.I. will engage, and engage vigorously, to any credible allegation of corruption,” he said.

The McDonnells were indicted on a total of 14 counts of conspiracy, bribery, extortion and related charges stemming from what prosecutors said was a scheme to sell the office of governor for $177,000 in gifts and cash from a dietary supplements executive. Mr. McDonnell was limited by law to one term, leaving office in January.

While other governors around the country have faced corruption charges in recent years, none of those cases unfolded in the national glare like the McDonnell melodrama, largely because the former governor was a rising Republican figure, whose unexpected defense was that his picture-perfect marriage had, in fact, been Photoshopped.

Mr. McDonnell, who carried his wife over the threshold of the Executive Mansion the day of his inauguration, portrayed her in his testimony as a harridan whose yelling left him “spiritually and mentally exhausted,” and who was so cold that she did not reply to an email pleading to save their marriage.

The defense used the demeaning portrait to argue that the McDonnells were too estranged to conspire criminally to trade favors with the vitamin executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

At issue was whether the McDonnells accepted the largess with corrupt intent. They were not forbidden under Virginia ethics laws from taking $120,000 in undocumented loans from Mr. Williams, nor the goodies he bestowed — such as a custom golf bag and Rolex for the governor, Armani dresses for the first lady, and a $15,000 check for their daughter’s wedding at a time the first couple owed $31,000 on their credit cards and were hemorrhaging money on beachfront property.

The defense argued that actions Mr. McDonnell took on behalf of Mr. Williams’s company, Star Scientific, the maker of the supplement Anatabloc, were mere political courtesies. The former governor testified that he had given Mr. Williams “the bare, basic, routine access to government and nothing more.”

But prosecutors argued that Mr. McDonnell’s actions followed so closely after Mr. Williams’s gifts that they were strong circumstantial evidence of a corrupt bargain. At one point, Mr. McDonnell emailed an aide to see him about “Anatabloc issues” just six minutes after discussing a $50,000 loan with Mr. Williams.

The McDonnells were shown to have used Mr. Williams like an A.T.M. In May 2012, Mr. McDonnell texted the executive, suggesting, “per voice mail, would like to see if you could extend another 20k loan.” Mr. Williams replied within minutes: “Done.”

The government dismissed the defense strategy of portraying the McDonnell marriage as broken and Ms. McDonnell as a “nutbag” who was smitten with Mr. Williams. The former governor was trying to “throw his wife under the bus,” the prosecutor, Michael S. Dry, said in closing statements.

More From The New York Times: