RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - A federal judge rejected a bid by former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell for a new trial on Monday, but in the process vacated one of former first lady Maureen McDonnell's convictions.
The McDonnells were charged in a 14-count indictment in January for allegedly taking $177,000 in gifts, vacations, and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., one-time CEO of Star Scientific, in exchange for helping authorize and promote the dietary supplement Antabloc.
The couple was convicted Sept. 4, after a six-week jury trial. McDonnell was found guilty on 11 of 13 counts including accepting bribes, using his position in office to provide favorable treatment benefitting Star Scientific, falsifying financial documents and obstructing justice. Maureen McDonnell was found guilty of nine of the 13 charges.Robert McDonnell is to be sentenced on Jan. 6, his wife, on Feb. 20.
In tossing one obstruction of justice conviction against Maureen McDonnell, U.S. District Judge James Spencer held prosecutors failed to prove she intended to obstruct a grand jury, even if she still may have been taking steps to throw off or at least slow the investigation.
The McDonnells had asked Spencer to throw out all their convictions or grant them a new trial on the grounds that their guilty verdicts were the result of insufficient evidence and numerous legal errors during their trial.
Spencer largely rejected all of the McDonnells' arguments, holding that prosecutors produced substantial evidence that Williams sought state-funded studies of Star Scientific's supplement, and that McDonnell took specific steps to make those studies happen.
The one conviction Judge Spencer tossed revolved around a note Maureen McDonnell wrote to Williams that implied she always intended to return clothing he had purchased for her during a shopping trip to New York City.
Judge Spencer wrote that while the note was "undoubtedly an attempt to mislead authorities" prosecutors had not demonstrated McDonnell knew or believed the note would ever be seen by the grand jury.
The existence of the note alone was not enough to prove obstruction, he wrote.
"Although Mrs. McDonnell may have hoped that the misleading note would be provided to the future grand jury, there is insufficient evidence to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude that Mrs. McDonnell knew this would happen," Judge Spencer wrote. "There was no evidence adduced at trial to show that she was aware of either the existence or possibility of the specific grand jury proceeding referenced in the indictment. Indeed, according to testimony from the Government's own witness, Special Agent Charles Hagan, there was no federal grand jury investigation into the McDonnells at the time the charged conduct occurred."
The investigation referenced by Spencer turned up a wide range of gifts to the former governor from Williams. These included approximately $6,600 in golf outings $20,000 in designer clothes, $135,000 in loans benefitting the McDonnells and their LLC, MoBo Real Estate, between 2011 and 2013.
The McDonnells also received home improvement services; vacations; access to Williams' personal jet and Ferrari; and a Rolex watch engraved with the inscription "71st Governor of Virginia."
In exchange for these gifts, prosecutors said, the McDonnells hosted various promotions, dinner events at the McDonnell's private mansion and scientific research seminars endorsing Antabloc, a dietary supplement purported to relieve inflammation associated with many chronic autoimmune disorders.
The US Attorney's office declined to comment on the ruling.
In a related move, Ryan Newman, legal counsel for McDonnell, was granted a motion to withdraw, citing his departure from the law firm of Jones Day on December 2, as his reason for leaving.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.