Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife have been indicted on charges of trading influence for cash and gifts.
Federal prosecutors in the Department of Justice have charged Bob and Maureen McDonnell with accepting more than $100,000 in gifts and money from Jonnie Williams Sr., the chief executive of Star Scientific, a company that makes dietary supplements. In exchange, prosecutors charge, both the former governor and his wife lent their influence and connections to promoting his business and products. The McDonnells also allegedly went to great lengths to cover up the deal.
The demands made of Williams, especially by Maureen McDonnell, are blatant and almost ridiculous in their extravagance.
In December 2009, before McDonnell was sworn in as governor, he and his wife met with Williams at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City.
“During the meeting,” the indictment reads, “MAUREEN MCDONNELL asked for assistance in finding a designer dress for her husband’s upcoming inauguration as Governor, and JW agreed to help. MAUREEN MCDONNELL subsequently informed JE, one of ROBERT MCDONNELL’s senior staff members, that JW had agreed to purchase a designer dress by Oscar de la Renta for MAUREEN MCDONNELL for the inauguration.”
The staffer, JE, “expressed concerns” about the arrangement and “ultimately informed her that JW’s purchase of a designer dress for the inauguration would be inappropriate and should not be done.”
In response, Maureen McDonnell sent an angry email to JE:
“I need to talk to you about the Inaugural clothing budget. I need ansers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I’m charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural is killing us!! I need answers and I need help, and I need to get this done.”
Maureen McDonnell took a “rain check” from Williams, and in April 2011, she apparently called it in, asking him to “take her shopping in New York City for the designer dress by Oscar de la Renta.” In exchange, she promised that Williams would be seated next to Gov. McDonnell at the political event for which she was purchasing the dress.
On April 13, 2011, Williams and Maureen McDonnell went on the shopping spree that Williams had agreed to pay for, spending “approximately $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, $5685 at Louis Vuitton, and approximately $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman.”
In May 2011, Maureen McDonnell met with Williams and told him that she and her husband were facing “severe financial difficulties.” She asked him for a $50,000 loan and also $15,000 to help pay the catering costs for her daughter’s wedding. Williams wrote checks for both sums. The $50,000 check went to Maureen McDonnell’s personal bank account. The $15,000 check was given to the caterers.
Several times, Williams paid the several thousand dollar tab for McDonnell and his sons to play golf at his private golf club, of which McDonnell was not a member. In July 2011, the McDonnells spent a vacation at William’s vacation home on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. They were given the use of Williams’ Ferrari, which was driven up especially for the occasion, and Willaims rented a boat for their use.
In August 2011, Maureen McDonnell met with Williams and asked him to purchase a Rolex for her husband.
“During the meeting, MAUREEN MCDONNELL noticed JW’s watch and asked what brand it was. JW informed her that it was a Rolex. She informed JW that she would like to get one for ROBERT MCDONNELL because he would like a Rolex. JW expressed concern regarding whether ROBERT MCDONNELL would actually wear such a luxury watch given his role as a senior government official. MAUREEN MCDONNELL told JW that she wanted JW to buy a Rolex for ROBERT MCDONNELL. JW subsequently bought a Rolex for ROBERT MCDONNELL.”
Williams also provided loans of up to $50,000 to MoBo, the McDonnells’ failing real estate company.
Throughout this time, the McDonnells gave generous amounts of their time to promoting Star Scientific products. Gov. McDonnell made overtures to the Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Services, forwarding a press release on the launch of clinical trials for Antabine, a Star Scientific product, to the secretary and requesting that it be reviewed. McDonnell’s staff arranged a meeting between JW and the Secretary of Health, who was “skeptical” of the health claims Williams made. Both McDonnells attended several events for the products, and spoke at some of them as well. In February 2012, the McDonnells arranged for Williams and other Star Scientific executives to attend a “reception for healthcare leaders” at the governor’s mansion.
Beginning in June 2011, Maureen McDonnell began purchasing stock in Star Scientific, and then took great pains to hide the purchases on her financial disclosure firms. By law, those disclosure forms must be filed each year by January 15. On December 20, 2011, Maureen McDonnell sold all of her 6,522 shares of Star Scientific stock. According to the indictment, she “made it clear to the Brokerage Firm A broker overseeing the account that the sale of the Star Scientific stock had to occur before year-end in order to avoid annual reporting requirements.”
On January 20, 2012, Maureen McDonnell purchased all of those shares back plus some more, ending up with 6,672 shares of Star Scientific Stock.
Come December 2012, Maureen McDonnell again took steps to avoid having to disclose her stake in the company transferring almost all of her shares to her children, leaving her with under $5,000 worth of stock at year-end.
In January 2013, Maureen McDonnell requested that Williams pay for plane tickets for two of her daughters to attend the bachelorette party of another daughter in Savannah, Georgia. Williams complied.
McDonnell left the governor’s mansion earlier this month after he was blocked by term limits from running for re-election. He was at one time considered a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender.