- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

RICHMOND — Communication between former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife deteriorated so badly that he didn’t bother to tell the onetime first lady that his sister and her husband were separated, according to defense testimony Tuesday.

Maureen C. McDonnell said she told her brother about the separation as soon as it happened in 2011, but his wife didn’t find out about it until six weeks later when the sister indicated that she would attend a Christmas party at the governor’s mansion alone. She said her sister-in-law’s reaction was, “OMG, I didn’t know.”

The testimony is intended to bolster a defense claim that the former first couple’s marriage was on the rocks and that they could not have conspired to accept gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman because they were barely speaking. Mr. McDonnell and his wife, also named Maureen, are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for promoting his company’s dietary supplements.

The former governor’s sister testified that she saw a lot of strain in her brother’s marriage to a woman she described as “very manipulative, very unpredictable and very deceptive,” and the result was a breakdown in communication.

“After he became governor, it kind of went from bad to worse,” she said.

She said her sister-in-law was unhappy as first lady, once describing the governor’s mansion as a prison.

“I think she felt trapped there,” she said.

She also offered testimony designed to counter the government’s theory that the McDonnells were financially desperate because of two money-losing vacation rental properties in Virginia Beach. The houses are owned by Mr. McDonnell and his sister. According to previous testimony and evidence, two loans from Mr. Williams totaling $70,000 were intended to keep those properties afloat after the real estate market tanked.

Ms. McDonnell testified that she had long earned a six-figure salary, topping out at about $560,000 in 2012, and could easily pay the real estate venture’s bills. She said her brother, who had once borrowed $2,000 from her when he was in law school, knew he could always turn to her or one of their other three siblings for financial help.

She said she was horrified when she learned about a series of late fees on one of the mortgages. She attributed that to inattention by her then-husband, who handled the venture’s bills but was distracted by the struggles of his own business as well as her difficult pregnancy and subsequent health problems.

“I felt angry,” she said of her reaction to the late fees. “There was no excuse. I had the money.”

The ex-governor’s sister also said the properties were not intended to be a profit-making venture. She said she and her brother had happy memories of family vacations to Myrtle Beach as children and wanted to replicate that for their own children and their extended family.

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