McDonnell Corruption Trial Day 10: Week 2 Wrapping Up
Week two of the public corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, is wrapping up in federal court in Richmond.
The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts, vacations, golf outings and secret loans from the former chief executive of a nutritional supplements company in exchange for promoting his products. The prosecution continues its case with more witnesses Friday.
Former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams testified under immunity that he lavished gifts on the McDonnells only to get their help and gain credibility for his company and its anti-inflammatory product, Anatabloc. Williams was allowed to use the governor's mansion to officially launch the product in 2011.
The first witness on the stand Friday was Matt Conrad, the former deputy chief of staff to then Governor Bob McDonnell. Conrad offered testimony about a press release from Star Scientific that he received from the first lady's office concerning the luncheon held at the Executive Mansion for Anatabloc. He said he was suspicious of the release, saying he didn't think it was normal because it came from a third party and the first lady's office. On cross examination he said that he told the FBI that he was initially suspicious because the press release came from the private sector.
He testified about Bob McDonnell's Statement of Economic Interests for 2012. He said the governor was displeased with the first draft, which listed gifts totaling around $80,000. He said McDonnell asked him for past disclosures from previous governors. He also asked Conrad about the definition of "personal friend." Conrad testified he said that there is no official guide or regulation, but a good place to start is personal friends are "those prior to running for office."
On cross examination, Conrad testified he was concerned about an item on the Statement of Economic Interests report for $19,000 in Redskins tickets. He said it was the entire family and a large group that attended. He said he thought that this may have been why Bob McDonnell was displeased. The Star Scientific gifts were identified and remained on the report, Conrad said the governor did not bring up issues with those. Conrad testified that he was not aware of the $70,000 in loans to MoBo Realty.
Conrad also testified that Bob McDonnell did not discuss his personal finances or marriage with him. Early in his testimony he said he never had a bad experience with Maureen McDonnell, though he didn't have much interaction with her. Later he testified that he heard she was hoarding piles of gifts in closets.
The next witness on the stand was Star Scientific executive Paul Perito. Perito held different roles with the company – he was listed as chief council, executive vice president, COO and vice president – at different times.
He testified he was wary of the relationship between the McDonnells and Jonnie Williams. He said he was worried about the political ramifications. He said he was concerned that the product wouldn't be taken seriously, and he wanted the science to speak for itself. He said that eventually his opinion changed, he thought there would be a "halo effect" by collaborating with the governor.
He said Williams told him he was elated and shocked because at the RosKamp Institute the first lady said she would invite everyone to the Executive Mansion for the Anatabloc launch. He thought it would be good to better word of mouth, get people to take Star Scientific seriously and attract University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University researchers.
He testified he didn't know about the loans, catering bill, and shopping trips from Williams to the McDonnells.
Perito testified about the 2011 lunch at the Executive Mansion for Anatabloc, saying the invitation “looked official.” He felt the purpose of the lunch was to showcase good science and research, gain interest from others. He said he thought the governor's presence would resonate with state officials and researchers, and could affect potential sales. He said that during the lunch, the governor stated that he had limited decision making power in the area of the Virginia tobacco commission. Perito said that was news to him.
Perito testified about a phone call he had with representatives from the University of Virginia in late November 2011 about research. He said there were nothing but bureaucrats on the phone. He said it was clear to him that he'd lost support with the real people who could make a pathway. He said he told this to Williams, who was “furious."
Perito testified that he was told by Jonnie Williams in 2012 that Maureen McDonnell wanted to be on the board of Star Scientific. Perito said she requested the position for the level of income she would receive. He said he told Williams that was the worst idea he'd ever heard, there was nothing she could do that would benefit Star Scientific in a meaningful way. He said he felt she didn't have the necessary qualifications. He said Williams was concerned about how she would take it. Perito said Williams told him later that she was really "pissed.”
Perito also testified about when he learned, in January 2013, of Williams being subpoenaed and interviewed by law enforcement. Perito said that was when he learned Williams wrote checks to McDonnells and gave them gifts. He said he was "breathless,” and asked Williams how he could possibly do this.
He said he told Williams the impact of this on the company, third parties, and government was taking business risks to a new level. Perito asked Williams why he didn't tell him about it until then. He said Williams told him “because you're still a prosecutor at heart.” Perito said he told him to not talk to anyone about it, that they needed to meet with lawyers.
He described it as an emotional conversation, saying Williams was "crushed" and sobbing. He said as a former prosecutor he knew gravity of the situation, and at this point he felt their relationship was like the Reagan doctrine - trust but verify. He described Williams' conduct as "egregiously bad,” and said if he had known he would have put a stop to it all.
The McDonnells' stockbroker, John Piscitelli, took the stand Friday afternoon. He testified that during a conference call with them, Bob McDonnell said Star Scientific was holding stock for him. Piscitelli also said the governor advised him the stock should go into an account belonging only to his wife.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.