RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, once viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party, and his wife were indicted Tuesday on federal corruption charges accusing the couple of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in loans, shopping sprees, money for their daughter’s wedding — and even a joyride in a Ferrari — from the owner of a company that makes health supplements.
The 14-count indictment portrays the former governor as deeply entrenched in credit card debt even before he took office and willing to accept lavish gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, who hoped the first couple’s endorsement for his products would yield big profits for his company.
McDonnell appeared Tuesday night at a hastily called news conference in Richmond to strongly deny any wrongdoing and denounce what he said was an “unjust overreach” by federal prosecutors.
“I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal friendship and his generosity,” said McDonnell, who was flanked by his wife, daughter and son-in-law as he read from prepared remarks.
McDonnell vowed to “use every available resource and advocate” to fight the charges.
While still in office, McDonnell apologized for accepting the gifts and repaid thousands to Williams. Limited to a single term by state law, McDonnell left the executive mansion earlier this month in disgrace, his approval numbers low and his political future in tatters. At one time, McDonnell had been considered a possible vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney, and the governor’s seat has opened the door to higher office since Thomas Jefferson held the post from 1779 to 1781. McDonnell delivered the 2010 Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, and became chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2011.
Twelve of the counts are punishable by up to 20 years in prison each, and two are punishable up to 30 years. Fines can range from $250,000 to $1 million.
The 43-page indictment portrays a cozy relationship between the McDonnells and Williams that began even before he took office, with many of their interactions initiated by Maureen McDonnell. In 2009, just before the governor’s inauguration, Maureen McDonnell wrote to a senior staffer for her husband, saying the couple were broke and had thousands of dollars in credit card debt.
The indictment says Maureen McDonnell cut a deal with Williams about two years later: if he bought her dresses and accessories for her daughter’s wedding and the couple’s anniversary, she would make sure he had a prime seat next to her husband at a political event in New York City. The indictment also details a $50,000 loan Williams made to the McDonnells in May 2011, along with $15,000 for their daughter’s wedding.
The indictment also says the McDonnells enjoyed a lavish vacation at Williams’ multimillion-dollar home on Smith Mountain Lake in July 2011, which included free reign over Williams’ personal Ferrari and a boat rented just for the occasion. For months afterward, Maureen McDonnell frequently appeared at events held by Star Scientific and discussed the company’s virtues.