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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ex-Virginia First Lady Sentenced to Prison

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to one year and one day in prison on Friday for her part in a conspiracy and bribery scheme with her husband, Bob McDonnell.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer sentenced McDonnell on eight counts of public corruption. In addition to the jail time, he also sentenced her to two years of supervised release, with special financial surveillance and restricted credit usage.

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was convicted on 11 counts, was sentenced to two years in prison last month. However, he will remain free on bond while he appeals the convictions to the 4th Circuit.

Opening arguments on his appeal are scheduled to begin on May 12.

Judge Spencer also approved Maureen McDonnell's request for bond pending appeal and recommended her to be sentenced at a facility near her home. The judge declined to impose a fine on McDonnell, having determined she was not in a financial position to pay one.

During the hearing, Spencer called McDonnell's "spiral down in sync with her husband's rise in politics ... tragic, sad and puzzling."

"In this case, joint conduct led to a joint conviction," he said.

A jury found the McDonnells guilty in September of taking more than $165,000 in loans and gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his tobacco-derived nutritional supplement Anatobloc.

The gifts included about $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories Williams purchased for Maureen McDonnell during a Manhattan shopping spree and an engraved $6,500 Rolex watch she gave to Bob McDonnell as a Christmas present.

Williams, whom Judge Spencer called "the snake in the mansion," and who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, also paid for vacations and golf outings.

Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 18 months for McDonnell, while the former first lady's attorneys argued the public humiliation she endured during the six-week trial is punishment enough, and asked the judge to let her off with probation and 4,000 hours of community service.

In their closing statements, counsel for the defense pleaded for mercy in Maureen McDonnell's sentencing, citing a 70 percent reduction in her husband's sentence against recommended guidelines.

Character witnesses including their daughter, Rachel McDonnell, took to the stand to describe a woman who had been a loving and compassionate mother who changed when she moved into the executive mansion--an anxious, stressed out woman who most feared public speaking.

Maureen McDonnell spoke for the first time on her own behalf, and expressed remorse for her actions. "I requested that if someone needs to be made an example of, I'd rather it be me," she said tearfully. "I am the one who allowed the serpent into the mansion and that is true. The venom from that snake has poisoned my marriage, my family and the commonwealth that I so love, and I am the one who opened the door," she said.

Judge Spencer described the McDonnells' trial puzzling and at times bizarre.

"Let's throw mama from the bus ... morphed into let's throw mama off the train," Spencer said.

The former governor appeared in court for the duration of his wife's sentencing.

If her appeal fails, McDonnell will be the first modern-day governor's spouse sent to prison for felonies committed while she held the mostly ceremonial position.

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