McDonnell Corruption Trial Day 11: Week Three Begins
The corruption trial of former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen resumed in federal court Monday morning.
The McDonnells are accused of taking gifts in return for political favors. In a 14-count indictment, they are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his dietary supplements company. The McDonnells are accused of setting up a meeting between Williams and a state health official, hosting a product launch reception at the Executive Mansion, and attending an event aimed at persuading doctors to recommend the Star Scientific product Anatabloc. According to court documents, the gifts included a Rolex watch, designer clothing, golf trips and $15,000 for their daughter's wedding expenses. The McDonnells face decades in prison if they are convicted.
As of Friday August 09, the jury has heard from 26 prosecution witnesses. Among them was Jonnie Williams, who was granted immunity by the government in exchange for his cooperation. He testified that he spent lavishly on the McDonnells to secure the prestige of the governor's office.
McDonnell's former chief of staff Martin Kent was the first to testify Monday.
Kent testified about the extent of the governor's influence over the state tobacco commission and universities. He said he had control over board appointments, but he could not do more than that. He said McDonnell could ask for resignations but could not make board members step down.
The prosecution entered into evidence a letter to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors about the ouster of UVA President Teresa Sullivan. In the letter dated June 22, 2012, then Governor McDonnell wrote: "But let me be absolutely clear: I want final action by the Board on Tuesday. If you fail to do so, I will ask for the resignation of the entire Board on Wednesday. Regardless of your decision, I expect you to make a clear, detailed and unified statement on the future leadership of the University." Read the full letter here.
Kent then testified about McDonnell's drive from Smith Mountain Lake to Richmond in Jonnie Williams' Ferrari, saying he didn't know about the ride until the security detail told him about it. He said the ride hurt morale among the security detail, and he asked the governor to allow security to drive him in the future. Twenty-one photos of Bob McDonnell in the Ferrari were entered into evidence. Click here to view the photos.
Kent also said he advised McDonnell about disclosing gifts and the personal friend exemption. Kent said he did send McDonnell a written opinion by a former attorney general that recommended any relationship even distantly associated with his elected position should be disclosed.
In August 2011, a luncheon was held at the governor's mansion for Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams to, according to the prosecution, launch his signature product, Anatabloc. McDonnell spoke at the event. Kent testified that Bob McDonnell was busy that week dealing with natural disasters and had ample reason to remove the event from his schedule, but didn't.
He testified that he didn't know much about the interactions between Williams and McDonnell, saying he only recalls meeting Williams once. He said he didn't know about the golf trips, loans, etc., until it was made public. He testified that it was common to not know personal details - such as finances, marriage details, or vacations - about the governor.
Kent testified he planned to accompany Maureen McDonnell to the FBI's first interview, but he was "uninvited" by law enforcement who told Kent that he “would not be needed.” The interview was supposed to be about about allegations that Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneiderhad been stealing food, but it unexpectedly turned out to be about the gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams. Kent testified he felt his absence left Maureen exposed. Kent said the governor talked with him about the interview and was "visibly upset."
After Kent was done on the stand, Sara Wilson, the director of the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, testified.
She talked about a March 2012 meeting on the state's health plan where Bob McDonnell pulled out a bottle of Anatabloc and told them how it helped him and Maureen. She said there was no official request from McDonnell, she didn't leave with any kind of understanding that she needed to follow up on Anatabloc. She did say someone else at the meeting said to her that McDonnell wanted her to meet with Williams' people.
She testified that, prior to the meeting, on the same day as the February 2012 health reception at the Executive Mansion organized by Virginia Secretary of Health Bill Hazel, a marketing official for Star Scientific had come by unannounced to talk to her. She said the Star representative talked to her about Anatabloc and letting state employees use it as part of their health plan. She said dietary supplements weren't covered under their health plan. She said there was nothing more asked of her.
Court recessed for lunch after Wilson's testimony. After lunch, former Secretary of Administration Lisa Hicks-Thomas took the stand and testified about the same meeting Wilson attended.
Michael Uncapher, the ex-husband of Bob McDonnell's sister, was the next witness called to the stand. Uncapher oversaw properties owned by MoBo Real Estate, a limited liability partnership that Bob McDonnell and his sister formed. He testified that the company owned beach properties that were failing, saying the company had an expected annual deficit of $50,000 to $60,000. Uncapher talked about the loans they received to help with that, including one from a Virginia Beach doctor and the governor's father. Uncapher also testified to conversations that he had with Jonnie Williams. Uncapher said he got the impression Williams planned to invest in the properties.
Jerry Kilgore, who served as attorney general of Virginia from 2002 to 2005 was the last person to testify Monday. Kilgore was hired in 2011 by Jonnie Williams to seek research funding. Kilgore testified that Williams told him that the McDonnells supported his product. Kilgore will continued his testimony Tuesday morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.