Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted Tuesday on federal corruption charges stemming from their relationship with a wealthy businessman in a case sure to test the ethical boundaries between friendship and political influence.
Former health supplement company executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. plied the McDonnells with gifts and loans and, in return, received access in order to peddle his products, charging documents filed Tuesday claim.
Mr. McDonnell on Tuesday night reiterated that he did nothing wrong — Virginia law does not require the disclosure of gifts to family members — and insisted that the gifts were motivated by nothing more than friendship.
But now the former governor and first lady face 14 federal charges, including conspiracy to defraud citizens of Virginia and obtaining property under color of official right.
Mr. McDonnell also was charged with giving a false statement to a credit union for neglecting to mention a $50,000 loan from Mr. Williams. Mrs. McDonnell faces a charge of obstructing an official proceeding for attempting to return to Mr. Williams some items of clothing he bought for her after an investigation had begun.
The McDonnells were scheduled to make an initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Friday. If convicted, each could face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
The 43-page indictment also seeks the forfeiture of more than $140,000 as well as dozens of gifts received by the McDonnells, including a silver Rolex watch engraved with the phrase “71st Governor of Virginia,” several pairs of high-end Louis Vuitton shoes, a slew of golf apparel and equipment and 30 boxes of Anatabloc — the signature product of Star Scientific.
Prosecutors said that, in exchange for gifts and loans, Mr. McDonnell arranged meetings for Mr. Williams with Virginia government officials, hosting and attending events at the governor’s mansion designed to promote Mr. Williams‘ product among government officials and industry researchers.
A defiant Mr. McDonnell on Tuesday night addressed the charges before reporters at a Richmond law firm, presenting himself as someone who has been “falsely and wrongly accused and whose public service has been wrongly attacked.”
“While I deeply regret accepting these legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of these now have been returned or repaid with interest,” he said in a seven-minute statement. “I have apologized for my poor judgment and I accept full responsibility for accepting these legal gifts and loans.”
The former governor cited two “independent and nonpolitical investigations have confirmed that Mr. Williams and Star Scientific received nothing from the state.” He said the charges stem from a “misguided” legal theory that would suggest that facilitating an introduction or arranging a meeting is a federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave someone a gift.
He also said he intends to fight the charges.
“I will use every available resource and advocate that I have for as long as it takes to fight and prevail against these false allegations and the unjust overreach of the federal government,” said Mr. McDonnell, who appeared alongside his wife and daughter and did not take questions afterward.
The indictment put Mrs. McDonnell firmly at the center of the case, facilitating contact between the governor and the wealthy businessman. It details how, after Mr. Williams dropped more than $18,000 on an April 13, 2011, shopping trip for her in New York City, she ensured that Mr. Williams was seated next to the governor during a Union League Club event that evening.