- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2015

Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell is to be sentenced Friday in Richmond after being convicted last year of conspiring with her husband, former Gov. Bob McDonnell, to promote a wealthy businessman’s interests in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans.

The former governor, who was convicted on 11 counts, was sentenced last month to two years in prison; Maureen McDonnell was convicted on eight counts of an indictment handed up in January 2014, soon after her husband left office.

Federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer to sentence Maureen McDonnell to 18 months in prison.

In a recent court filing, they noted that Bob McDonnell’s sentence was substantially reduced from recommended guidelines of approximately 6 to 8 years. The prosecutors asked for a comparable “downward variance” from the approximately 5 to 6 years in sentencing guidelines for Maureen McDonnell in order to avoid disparities and promote “respect for the law.”

“But because Mrs. McDonnell was a full participant in a bribery scheme that sold the governor’s office in exchange for luxury goods and sweetheart loans, many of which she solicited personally, and because she repeatedly attempted to thwart the investigation through false representations, it would be unjust for her not to serve a period of incarceration for her crimes,” prosecutors argued.

Bob McDonnell could have faced more than a decade in prison, but Judge Spencer last month reduced his guidelines to about 6 to 8 years.

Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers have asked the court for probation and a sentence of 4,000 hours of community service, arguing that there is no greater punishment that can be levied on her than the effect the case already has had on her family.

During a six-week trial last summer, defense attorneys tried at times to portray Bob McDonnell as unaware of many of the dealings between Maureen McDonnell and businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., and that a crumbling marriage would have precluded a conspiracy.

Her lawyers also said that any term of incarceration would create an “unwarranted disparity” between Maureen McDonnell and Mr. Williams, who testified under immunity at the trial as the prosecution’s star witness.

“To send Mrs. McDonnell to prison while the man who manipulated her remains free would be the height of unjustified sentencing disparity,” the defense lawyers wrote.

Jeffrey Bellin, an associate professor at William & Mary Law School, said he expects that in light of Bob McDonnell’s sentence, his wife’s would be substantially below the guideline recommendation as well, but he thinks that the effort to blame her wouldn’t influence Judge Spencer.

“Instead, the fact that Maureen McDonnell is not a public official and so did not violate the public trust to the extent her husband did will likely be the key consideration,” he said. “A sentence of probation is not outside the realm of possibility.”

Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers asked that if the court does sentence her to jail time that it be split between imprisonment and home confinement.

An appeals court last month ruled that Bob McDonnell could remain free as he appeals his case.

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