Ex-governor gets 2 years in prison
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, once on the short list to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for taking bribes to promote a dietary supplement.
A jury in September found McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption. The couple accepted gifts including a Rolex watch, designer clothing and vacations in exchange for promoting a purported miracle cure made by Star Scientific Inc.
The company’s former CEO, Jonnie Williams, testified under immunity as the prosecution’s star witness in a case that exposed the details of the McDonnells’ shaky finances and troubled marriage.
In a strong but somber voice, McDonnell told the judge before sentencing that he was “a heartbroken and humbled man” and that he holds himself accountable.
“I allowed my life to get way out of balance,” he said.
When U.S. District Judge James Spencer announced the sentence, McDonnell was stoic. He is to report to prison by Feb. 9.
At the trial, the former governor said he began working unnecessarily late, just to avoid his wife’s angry outbursts and begged her to work on their deteriorating marriage. Defense attorneys claimed Maureen McDonnell developed a “crush” on Williams and was largely responsible for the couple’s cozy relationship with Williams.
McDonnell testified in his own defense during the six-week trial, acknowledging that he accepted Williams’ largesse but did nothing for him in return other than extend routine political courtesies. He was convicted of 11 counts.
“I’m 60 years old. Whatever days the Lord allows me, I dedicate anew to the service of others,” said McDonnell, whose lawyers had asked the judge to impose three years of community service. Prosecutors wanted more than 10 years in prison.
“It breaks my heart, but I have a duty I can’t avoid,” the judge said.
Maureen McDonnell, who did not testify, was convicted on eight counts. She will be sentenced Feb. 20.
The public corruption case prompted the General Assembly to tighten the state’s murky ethics laws, and some Virginia elected officials have voluntarily limited the value of gifts they will accept.
McDonnell, 60, delivered the 2010 Republican response to the State of the Union Address and became chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2011. He was indicted 10 days after leaving the office.
At trial, the McDonnell’s defense strategy depended in large part on convincing the jury that their marriage was so strained that they could not have conspired to squeeze bribes out of Williams. They arrived at and left the courthouse separately every day and rarely even glanced at each other as they sat separated by lawyers at the defense table.
McDonnell and other witnesses testified about the first lady’s erratic behavior, suggesting she was mostly responsible for the relationship that developed with Williams. They said she was prone to such angry outbursts that the Executive Mansion staff threatened a mass resignation. One acknowledged calling Maureen McDonnell “a nutbag.”
The defense introduced a September 2011 email from McDonnell to his wife lamenting the deterioration of their marriage, complaining about her “fiery anger” and begging her to work with him to repair the relationship.
Prosecutors countered the broken marriage defense by showing the jury photos of the McDonnells holding hands as recently as at pretrial hearings.
Several witnesses described Maureen McDonnell’s relationship with the wealthy vitamin executive as inappropriate and flirtatious. Nobody suggested the relationship was physical, and Williams testified that his dealings with the McDonnells were all business.
Williams said he spent freely on the McDonnells to secure meetings with administration officials and a launch event at the Executive Mansion for his tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory supplement Anatabloc as a treatment for ulcers, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and other maladies.
His gifts included nearly $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories for Maureen McDonnell, a $6,500 engraved Rolex watch for the governor, $15,000 in catering for their daughter Cailin’s wedding, free family vacations and golf outings for their sons.