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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Arraignment Bearing Down on Ex-Governor

(CN) - Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, who are accused of accepting more than $140,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman, want their arraignment delayed to next Friday when their lawyer returns from abroad.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, both 59, are accused of accepting more than $140,000 in loans and gifts, including designer clothes and thousands of dollars in golf outings, from Jonnie Williams Sr., the CEO of pharmaceutical company Star Scientific.

The former governor allegedly used his position to help promote Star Scientific's products, including the dietary supplement Anatabloc.

A 14-count grand jury indictment charges the couple with fraud and obstruction for allegedly lying about the gifts on loan statements and to federal investigators.

According to the indictment, McDonnell used Williams' private jet while campaigning for governor. After he was elected on Nov. 3, 2009, his wife allegedly asked Williams to help pay for a dress for her husband's upcoming inauguration and grew angry when a senior staffer expressed concerns about the idea.

Prosecutors say Maureen sent the staffer an email that stated: "I need to talk to you about Inaugural clothing budget. I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I'm charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural is killing us!! I need answers and I need help, and I need to get this done."

Over the next few years, Williams loaned the couple his Ferrari and jet, and took Maureen on a $19,000 shopping spree, according to the indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia. The McDonnells also accepted a Rolex watch engraved "71st Governor of Virginia," golf clubs, designer clothing and iPhones, among other gifts, prosecutors say.

Williams also paid tens of thousands of dollars toward the weddings of the McDonnells' two daughters, prosecutors claim, and in July 2011 he allowed the family to stay at his multimillion-dollar vacation home on Smith Mountain Lake.

In exchange, the former governor "perform[ed] official actions on an as-needed basis" for Star Scientific and its products, the indictment states.

McDonnell left office this month after serving his four-year term.

He released an apology Tuesday in which he denied having broken any laws.

"I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility," he said. "However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship. I never promised - and Mr. Williams and his company never received - any government benefit of any kind from me or my Administration."

At a news conference Tuesday evening, the former governor said he had been "falsely and wrongly accused."

"The federal government's case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory, and that is that facilitating an introduction or a meeting, appearing at a reception or expressing support for a Virginia business is a serious federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave an official a gift," McDonnell said. "The United States Supreme Court has already rejected this radical idea and for good reason: Because if it were applied as the law of the land, then nearly every elected official, from President Obama on down, would have to be charged for providing tangible benefits to donors."

The McDonnells face decades in prison if convicted.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he was "troubled" by the charges against Robert McDonnell and his wife.

"This is a sad day for Virginia, but I remain optimistic that we can work together to reform our system in order to prevent episodes like this from occurring ever again," McDonnell's successor said in a statement issued Tuesday.

McDonnell asked the federal judge overseeing their indictment to push back the arraignment scheduled for Friday to Jan. 31.

He said one of his attorneys, Henry Asbill of Jones Day, "is currently out of the country at a location with no airport" for his wife's birthday.

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