McDonnells found guilty on corruption charges

The former governor was found guilty on 11 charges. His wife found guilty on eight.

Update #5 — September 4, 2014; 3:07 PM

A jury found former governor Bob McDonnell guilty on 11 of 14 corruption charges, becoming the first Virginia governor ever convicted of a felony. His wife, Maureen, was found guilty on eight counts (see below).

The jury took just three days to reach their verdict after a trial that lasted over a month.

Sentencing has been set for January 6, 2015.

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Update #4 — January 24, 2014; 12:32 PM

Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, today pleaded not guilty in federal court to 14 counts of corruption charges (see below). The McDonnells will return to court on July 28th to begin a trial which is expected to take five or six weeks.

The McDonnells entered their pleas separately, both waiving their right to a speedy trial, which would have begun in April.

Relatedly, the Washington Post reported earlier this week that Bob McDonnell refused a 2013 plea agreement that would have entailed admitting guilt to one felony fraud charge in exchange for absolving his wife of prosecution.

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Update #3 — January 21, 2014; 4:21 PM

Former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged with 14 counts in federal court on Tuesday. The charges stem from the acceptance of ilegal gifts and over $135,000 in loans from Jonnie Williams, Sr., the founder and former head of dietary supplement company Star Scientific 4 (see bottommost post).

If found guilty on all charges, the McDonnells could face over $1 million in fines and decades of jail time.

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Update #2 — September 19, 2013; 7:04 AM

Former chef at Virginia’s Executive Mansion, Todd Schneider, has pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor embezzlement charges that contend he stole food from the McDonnell family kitchen. He will avoid jail time, but must pay $2,300 in restitution to the state, plus court costs.

Schneider was charged last March with embezzling food. Soon after, he alleged misconduct against Gov. Bob McDonnell which fueled an inquiry into the governor’s relationship with Star Scientific (see bottommost post).

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Update #1 — July 24, 2013; 7:56 AM

Governor McDonnell has repaid loans made by friend and Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams (see below) to the Governor’s wife and business, according to a statement released yesterday. Those loans include $52,278 made to Maureen McDonnell in 2011, and $71,837 in loans made to McDonnell’s real estate business, MoBO Real Estate.

“Being Governor of Virginia is the highest honor of my 37 years in public service,” McDonnell said in the statement. “I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens. I want you to know that I broke no laws and that I am committed to regaining your sacred trust and confidence. I hope today’s action is another step toward that end.”

McDonnell is still the subject of an FBI investigation.

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Original — July 11, 2013



Explainer: Gov. Bob Mcdonnell and Star Scientific

So what’s going on?

We learned in late April that Gov. Bob McDonnell is part of a FBI investigation for possibly taking undisclosed payments in exchange for helping Star Scientific, a company run by family friend Jonnie Williams.

It seems that Williams gave McDonnell and his family roughly $145,000 in gifts between 2011-2012. The vast majority of those gifts were never publicly disclosed. Among that undisclosed money is $70,000 Williams gave last year to a corporation, MoBo Real Estate, owned by McDonnell and his sister, which was recently reported in the Washington Post.

The other issue is that McDonnell and his wife may have improperly boosted the profile of Star Scientific to help its business.

Star Scientific is also facing a state lawsuit over unpaid taxes and is a subject in a federal securities investigation.

What is “Star Scientific”?

It’s a self-described “technology-oriented company with a mission to promote maintenance of a healthy metabolism and lifestyle.” They make products like dietary supplements, smoking alternatives, and cosmetics.

What other gifts has McDonnell received?

Williams is also alleged to have gifted McDonnell a $6,500 Rolex watch in August 2011, a gift the governor never publicly disclosed. Also in that year, the McDonnell family vacationed at Williams’ lake house. However, McDonnell did disclose the vacation ($2,268). Since becoming governor in 2010, McDonnell has disclosed only $9,650 in gifts from Williams.

Why not disclose all of the gifts?

Well, he may not legally have to. Governors must annually submit a Statement of Economic Interests (PDF). Question five asks:

During the past 12 months did a business, government, or individual other than a relative or personal friend (i) furnish you with any gift or entertainment at a single event, and the value received by you exceeded $50 in value…? (my emphasis)

Virginia’s disclosure laws seem to allow for a “personal friend” like Williams to offer McDonnell gifts. However, McDonnell seems to have disclosed some of Williams’s gifts, but not all of them.

So this isn’t a big deal after all?

Not quite. Some still think that the relationship between McDonnell and Williams resulted in McDonnell using his political power to bolster his friend’s business.

What else is raising eyebrows?

Williams reportedly paid $15,000 toward the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter, Caitlan, at the Executive Mansion in 2011. He also gave a $10,000 check to McDonnell’s eldest daughter, Jeanine, this past May to help defray costs of her wedding. Those payments were never publicly disclosed.

However, (and this another place where lawyers might come into play), state law doesn’t require public disclosures of gifts to family members. So Williams giving money and gifts to McDonnell’s wife and children doesn’t technically break the law. But it does make federal investigators suspicious that McDonnell and Williams/Star Scientific had a quid pro quo relationship.

What exactly is that alleged relationship?

Well, it recently came to light that Williams gave McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, a check for $50,000 in 2011. Around the same time Star Scientific was allowed to use the Executive Mansion to hold a luncheon to launch a new product, Anatabloc, designed to minimize inflammation.

“It was an event that was designed to try to make a big splash,” said John Clore, a professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in a Washington Post article. “That was the week it was showing up in stores.”

However, previous governors have used the mansion to host meetings and lunches, especially when trying to lure business to the state. McDonnell’s political action committee, Opportunity Virginia, reportedly paid for the lunch (more on the luncheon in a moment).

Now a few weeks before that luncheon, Maureen McDonnell organized and attended a meeting between Williams and a top state official. At the meeting, Williams presented research on Anatabloc and asked Virginia to consider using it to reduce state health-care costs (the state using it would, obviously, generate money for Star Scientific). Something to keep in mind: this meeting took place three days before Cailin’s wedding–of which Williams paid the $15,000 catering bill.

And before that meeting, Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida where she promoted Anatabloc to a collection of scientists and potential investors.

Isn’t there a chef involved in all this?

Yeah. Former Executive Mansion chef, Todd Schneider, was charged in March with embezzling food from the governor’s mansion while working there from 2010-2012.1

Schneider turned the tables by accusing the Governor of using state assets (remember the Star Scientific luncheon at the mansion?) for personal purposes, which has been illegal since at least 2008.2

Those purposes allegedly include forcing Schneider to work appreciation dinners and luncheons3 for McDonnell’s political action committee, Republican Party leadership, and Star Scientific events. Schneider claims he was told he’d be paid for his extra work by taking home food and supplies ordered by the Mansion.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Margaret Spencer will decide later this week whether to dismiss Schneider’s embezzlement charges. If she doesn’t, Schneider’s trial is expected to begin in mid-October.

Is the governor resigning?

Conservative website Bearing Drift reported on Saturday that McDonnell would resign as part of a reached plea agreement plea. McDonnell’s communications director, Tucker Martin, told me that was false.

What about the upcoming election and McDonnell’s political career?

Although McDonnell isn’t running for governor this year, the attention he’s getting could negatively affect fellow Republican Ken Cuccinelli, especially if a trial happens in October, a month out from the November elections.

“More information will be revealed at the peak of the campaign season and the headlines will keep appearing,” said Larry Sabato of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. That’s not good for Republicans.

McDonnell had been considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate. Those hopes are all but dashed now, even as his lawyer, Tony Troy, maintains that McDonnell did nothing illegal.

  1. FWIW: Schneider was found guilty of petty larceny embezzlement in 2000. 
  2. McDonnell recently deposited a $2,400 check into the Commonwealth’s bank account to pay back Gatorade, paper towels, laundry detergent, and other items from the Executive Mansion consumed by his children over recent years. 
  3. Schneider’s catering company, Seasonings Fine Catering and Event Planning, also catered Cailin’s 2011 wedding at the Executive Mansion. 
  4. Which announced last December it would change its name to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals in December.  ↩

photo by Gage Skidmore

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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