Former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, once a rising star in the Republican Party, was found guilty Thursday of selling the influence of his office to a vitamin salesman. He and his wife, Maureen, faced 14 counts of fraud, bribery charges, and corruption; McDonnell was found guilty of 11 counts, while Maureen was found guilty of nine.
McDonnell was found guilty of all charges against him, except for two counts of bank fraud. Both McDonnells sobbed as the verdicts were read, while their adult children cried in the seats behind them. U.S. District Judge James Spencer set sentencing for Jan. 6.
"All I can say is my trust remains in the Lord," McDonnell said as he left court.
McDonnell, 60, and Maureen McDonnell were accused of accepting $170,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the CEO of a dietary supplement company, in exchange for favors, including state promotion of one of the company’s products.
In closing arguments last Friday, a prosecutor told the federal jury that McDonnell "stomped on the Virginia flag by selling out his office."
Williams bought $20,000 in clothes for Maureen McDonnell and an engraved Rolex for the governor, which jurors passed among themselves during the trial. Williams also spent $15,000 on a wedding reception for the McDonnells’ daughter.
The executive arranged golf outings for the first couple, let them stay at his mountain lake house and lent them his Ferrari. A photo of Bob McDonnell, in sunglasses and smiling behind the wheel, was entered as evidence.
Prosecutors gave Williams an immunity deal and made him their star witness. He testified that he pampered the McDonnells to secure their help promoting the company’s big product, an anti-inflammatory agent called Anatabloc.
The former governor testified that he never gave Williams anything beyond ordinary political courtesy. Maureen McDonnell did not testify.
The case took a personal turn when the McDonnells plotted an unusual strategy: They argued that their marriage was so badly in trouble that they could not possibly have conspired to commit a crime.
Defense lawyers said during opening statements that Maureen McDonnell had a crush on Williams, and among the evidence introduced at trial was an anguished email that the governor sent his wife about the state of their marriage.
"The evidence shows that she was gaga for Jonnie," Maureen McDonnell's defense lawyer, William Burck, said, adding that his client genuinely believed in Williams' product.
The case took off when a personal chef who was fired in 2012, accused of stealing food from the governor’s mansion, provided investigators with documents showing that Williams had paid for catering at the daughter’s wedding.
McDonnell was elected governor in 2009. He left office in January of this year and was indicted less than two weeks later. He is the first governor in Virginia history to be charged and convicted of a crime, according to the Washington Post.
— Kelly O’Donnell, Katie Wall, Erin McClam and Elizabeth Chuck