- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2014

RICHMOND — The prosecution’s key witness in the case against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife testified Thursday that at times even he was taken aback by the high-dollar items the first lady asked him to buy.

Jonnie R. Williams, former CEO of nutritional supplement maker Star Scientific Inc., said in his second day on the stand that giving in to Mrs. McDonnell’s request for a $6,500 Rolex for her husband was a “mistake.”

The highly publicized piece of evidence in the case, obtained at a California jewelry store and engraved with the phrase “Robert F. McDonnell, 71st Governor of Virginia,” was passed around for the jury to examine.

“I shouldn’t have had to buy things like that to get the help that [I] needed,” Mr. Williams said. “I took a business risk [and] it was a bad business decision.”

Mr. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have been accused of taking more than $150,000 in gifts and loans from Mr. Williams in exchange for helping promote his nutritional supplement, Anatabloc, and his company. The McDonnells have pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of corruption-related charges.

While the defense has hinted at a borderline inappropriate relationship between Mr. Williams and Mrs. McDonnell — the two were said to have exchanged more than 1,200 text messages and phone calls — Mr. Williams said Thursday there was nothing romantic between them.

SEE ALSO: Bob McDonnell’s defense: Lonely wife developed ‘crush’ on CEO

But he testified that her requests for things of value escalated until Mrs. McDonnell asked him for his help buying a car for her daughter Cailin in 2011. Mr. Williams said he “just couldn’t do anything like that.”

He also said he wouldn’t help Mrs. McDonnell get a Range Rover for her twin boys at a discount.

“I thought I had an understanding. She was helping me — they were helping me — with my company,” he said. “But the thought of writing a check to a car dealership for one of the McDonnell children that I didn’t even know, I just had a tough time with it.”

The testimony came a day after Mr. Williams told jurors he used his private plane to get access to politicians. But while he offered use of the plane to several federal and state office holders and candidates, the favors did not extend to the types of gifts and loans with which he plied the McDonnells.

The businessman elaborated on what he saw as a purely transactional relationship between himself and the governor’s family. By March 2012, he said he had already given them $65,000 in checks as well as flights, a weekend at his Smith Mountain Lake vacation home and golf outings.

In return, Mr. Williams said, he scored a reception at the Governor’s Mansion in the summer of 2011 to help launch his anti-inflammatory product and a series of appearances by Mrs. McDonnell at events around the country promoting the drug.

A video of one such appearance showed Mrs. McDonnell identifying Mr. Williams as a “longtime friend,” but Mr. Williams — whose hair had noticeably grayed since the footage was taken in fall 2011 — said he would not have invited Mrs. McDonnell to speak on behalf of the product if she was not the first lady of Virginia.

How did he feel about her characterization of their relationship in that instance?

“I wasn’t going to correct her,” he said, repeating himself for Judge James R. Spencer.

Mr. Williams recounted how he tried to funnel more money to the McDonnells in secret through some form of Star Scientific stock in early 2012 because “I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing.”

After he eventually concluded he would simply need to loan Mr. McDonnell the money, the governor purportedly said, “OK.”

“I made a bad decision. It was wrong,” he said. “I thought the ends justified the means. I should never have written the checks.”

The McDonnells have maintained that the gifts from Mr. Williams were motivated by friendship, but at every turn prosecutors have attempted to erode that defense. Asked if he provided things of value to the couple out of friendship, Mr. Williams flatly rejected the idea.

“The McDonnells are not my personal friends,” he said. “I thought it was good for my company.”

But his testimony stood at odds with his statements to investigators last year, whom he told he did not seek, expect or receive anything from the McDonnells. He testified Thursday that those statements were untrue.

“If he was in trouble, I could be also,” he explained. “The governor was in financial trouble, and I needed his help. I just made a mistake.”

Mrs. McDonnell was apparently feeling the heat at that time as well. Mr. Williams said he came home one day to find a package with most of the items from a $20,000 shopping spree the two took to New York City along with a note thanking him and saying that they would be great for his daughter or for a charity.

“It was a sinking feeling,” he said. “It was like, ‘oh, no,’ … this letter was a fabrication.”

“I felt sorry for her,” he added. “I don’t want anyone in trouble, and they were in financial stress and hardship.”

Mr. Williams said he was positive that Mr. McDonnell agreed to help his company because of the gifts and loans.

“I am 100 percent sure,” he said. “I believe that.”

The prosecution finally finished with Mr. Williams on Thursday afternoon with the majority of the cross examination expected Friday. And while the trial and its sensational disclosures have kept observers riveted, by the end of the day Judge Spencer had enough.

We’re going to stop right here, the judge said, “primarily because I can’t take another second.”



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