Friday, August 15, 2014
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Prosecutors wrapped up their case in the public corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on Thursday by giving jurors their first in-person look at the designer clothes and other gifts the couple received from a dietary supplements entrepreneur who says he was seeking their support for his company's products.
FBI Special Agent David Hulser was the last of 45 prosecution witnesses to testify before the government rested. The jury will have Friday off while U.S. District Judge James S. Spencer deals with motions, then return Monday for the start of the defense case.
Bob McDonnell is expected to testify. His wife is not.
While leaving the courthouse Thursday, Bob McDonnell told reporters that there are two sides to the story.
"I'm glad we finally get to start our case," he said.
The trial of the McDonnells began in July. Prosecutors say they took more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his company's products. They also were accused of falsifying financial documents, and Maureen McDonnell was charged with obstructing the federal investigation.
The ex-governor, once a rising star in the Republican Party who was widely considered a possible Mitt Romney running mate in 2012, has vigorously denied any wrongdoing. He claims prosecutors improperly stretched the definition of bribery to cover long-accepted political courtesies like hosting receptions and arranging meetings for constituents with government officials.
The trial so far has produced many embarrassing details of the cozy relationship with Williams that destroyed McDonnell's political future.
Williams said he lavished the McDonnells with gifts including designer clothing, a $6,500 Rolex watch, golf outings, vacations and $15,000 to cover catering expenses for a daughter's wedding. He also made three loans totaling $120,000 as the McDonnells struggled with debts related to two family-owned vacation rental properties in Virginia Beach.
Jurors had previously examined the Rolex, and they got a firsthand look Thursday at other gifts they had previously only seen in photographs: designer apparel Williams purchased for Maureen McDonnell during a $20,000 Manhattan shopping spree in 2011, golf equipment, a painting of sailboats and a carton of Anatabloc — the supposed cure-all that that Williams wanted studied by state university researchers.
The McDonnells' lawyers had the items returned to Williams after the gifts were made public in media reports last year.
One by one, a prosecutor had a court security officer hand FBI agent David Hulser one of the gifts, which he then held up for the jury to see.
"Special Agent Hulser, is this the Louis Vuitton trench coat returned by the McDonnells to Mr. Williams?" prosecutor Ryan Faulconer asked.
"It is," Hulser answered, in what was a typical exchange.
While he was spending lavishly on the McDonnells, Williams was seeking help from Virginia government officials, according to testimony in the first three weeks of the trial. The McDonnells attended conferences to promote Star Scientific products and hosted an event for the company at the Executive Mansion, and the governor's office arranged a meeting between Williams and the state's top health official to discuss Anatabloc's health benefits.
The trial has been especially embarrassing for Maureen McDonnell, who was portrayed in an unfavorable light by several former aides. A onetime chief of staff to Virginia's former first lady testified that she told investigators Maureen McDonnell was "a nutbag."
McDonnell's former political adviser, Phil Cox, testified that in 2012, Williams and Maureen McDonnell tried unsuccessfully to get a meeting with GOP presidential candidate Romney to pitch Anatabloc. Having failed to get an audience with the candidate, Maureen McDonnell cornered his wife, Ann Romney, on a campaign bus and began telling her how Anatabloc could cure her multiple sclerosis, Cox testified.
"I was horrified," Cox said. "I didn't think it sort of showed the governor in a great light."
The McDonnells' personal finances also have been under the microscope. Prosecutors claim the couple turned to Williams for help because they were swamped with credit card debt and the money-losing beach houses.
Hulser presented charts suggesting that the rental properties were only kept afloat because of $70,000 in loans from Williams. Bank records showed that most of the proceeds of those loans were used to pay several mortgages on the properties.
He previously testified that the McDonnells owed nearly $75,000 on seven credit cards when he was inaugurated in January 2010, and the debt eventually climbed as high as $90,000.