Feds Charge Former Virginia Governor and Wife with Bribery

Two weeks ago,  Bob McDonnell finished his term-limited tenure as Governor of Virginia. Yesterday, he and his wife were charged by the feds with soliciting and taking bribes and gifts exceeding $140,000 from a Virginia dietary supplements tycoon, Jonnie Williams.

The salaciously detailed 43-page indictment originated in the Public Integrity Section of main justice in Washington DC and makes for fascinating reading.  According to prosecutors, the relationship between the McDonnells and Williams began during the 2009 campaign, when McDonnell staffers asked Williams if the candidate could use his private jet.  By December of that year, Maureen McDonnell was asking Williams for help buying a dress for her husband’s inauguration.

Jonnie Williams (“JW ” in the indictment), the CEO of Star Scientific, was not charged in the indictment and has reportedly been cooperating with the feds.  According to the McDonnell indictment, Williams was seeking the governor’s assistance in promoting, and removing regulatory obstacles to, Anatabloc, a Star Scientific product made from anatabine, a tobacco extract.  As alleged in the indictment, the governor essentially became a promoter for anatabine, extolling its virtues and directing state department of health officials to repeatedly meet with Star Scientific employees.

Among the goodies Williams allegedly lavished on the couple were secret  loans and payments of $135,000, designer clothes for Maureen McDonnell, use of a jet plane and Ferrari, sets of golf clubs and a silver Rolex.  Williams allegedly took Mrs. McDonnell on a shopping spree in New York before her daughter’s wedding, paid for rounds of golf for the governor and his sons at the exclusive Kinloch Golf Club, and let the family stay at his multimillion dollar lakeside vacation home.  When Mrs. McDonnell allegedly asked if Williams’ Ferrari would be there  to drive, Williams had his employee drive it up to the lake so the McDonnells could go joy-riding.

The McDonnells failed to disclose these and other gifts on their Virginia financial disclosure forms.  The forfeiture notice at the end of the indictment is a must-read, containing a detailed inventory of the many luxury items to be forfeited:  from a Silver Rolex Watch and Black Louis Vuitton shoes all the way down to a Gear sweatshirt.  And 30 boxes of Anatabloc.

The principal  charges against the former Governor and his wife are commit honest services wire fraud and  (18 U.S.C. § 1343) and obtaining property under color of official right (18 U.S.C. § 1951).  The couple is also charged with making false statements to a bank (by failing to disclose the secret loans).  Ms. O’Donnell is also charged separately with obstructing a grand jury investigation by manufacturing evidence:  a handwritten note to Williams that falsely suggested that the designer clothes he had bought for her had only been borrowed.  

The basic allegations about Governor McDonnell have been reported extensively in the past, primarily through the Washington Post.  It appears that DOJ may have made a decision to delay filing charges until after the November 13 election, in which Democrat Terry McAuliffe narrowly beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli.  (DOJ is sensitive to accusations of political favoritism and it is not uncommon for it to delay the filing of charges when an election is pending).

McDonnell, a small-government republican who got his law degree from Pat Robertson’s Regent University, characterized the indictment as “unjust overreach of the federal government.”

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