McDonnells found guilty on corruption charges
Former Governor and first lady face up to 30 years in prison
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, and his wife Maureen were found guilty Thursday of corruption charges. The jury found that the couple had accepted nearly $170,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams — former CEO of the dietary supplements company Star Scientific — in exchange for promoting one of his products.
The first couple was not charged with a breach in state law — all charges were brought by the federal government.
Seven men and five women on the federal jury found the former Republican governor guilty on 11 of the 13 counts he faced. Maureen McDonnell was found guilty of nine of the 13 counts she faced, according to the Associated Press.
The McDonnells were found guilty on counts of conspiracy to defraud the citizens of Virginia, conspiracy to use the governor’s office to obtain property, and false statements. Maureen was additionally found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice, for writing Williams a handwritten note trying to make it appear as if they had agreed she would return a designer gown purchased by Williams.
Jurors acquitted the couple of failure to disclose loans from Williams in a bank application submitted in February 2013.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, emphasized the need for a stricter ethics policy in Virginia in the wake of the conviction.
“We have a long way to go to restore the public’s trust after this embarrassing and difficult period for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Herring said in a statement. “If there was somehow still any doubt, it should be crystal clear that the people of Virginia deserve real ethics reform that will turn off the spigot of gifts, tickets, and trips that opens the door to abuse and undermines public confidence in our government.”
Speaker of Virginia House of Delegates William Howell, a Republican, came out in support of McDonnell and praised his ongoing friendship with the former governor.
“I believe in the justice system and I am not going to second guess the jury,” Howell said. “I am proud to call Bob McDonnell my friend and I pray for him and his family during this difficult time.”
Through five weeks of court proceedings, defense attorneys argued the McDonnells’ marital troubles had resulted in the couple’s refusing to speak to one another during the time of the alleged conspiracies. The defense said the couple was therefore unable to accept and coordinate the illicit activities they were accused of.
McDonnell is the first governor in Virginia history to be charged with or convicted of a crime. McDonnell’s attorney said he will appeal.
Center for Politics spokesperson Kyle Kondik said the extent of the convictions was unexpected.
“While it was not a shock that the McDonnells were convicted of some charges, it was somewhat surprising that they were convicted on so many counts,” Kondik said. “The prosecution did a good job presenting the case and of course the McDonnells were shell-shocked by the result. An appeal is certain.”
The couple faces up to 30 years in prison, according to the Associated Press. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 6.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which handled the case, could not be reached for comment regarding the McDonnells’ sentencing.
“Based on what I’ve read and heard, I certainly wouldn’t expect maximum sentences or anything like that,” Kondik said.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe released a statement following the verdict, expressing disappointment with how the case has affected the state.
“I am deeply saddened by the events of the trial that ended in today’s verdict, and the impact it has had on our Commonwealth’s reputation for honesty and clean government,” he said.
McAuliffe and Herring are currently working on reforming the Commonwealth’s ethics and gift laws.
“In the upcoming legislative session, I hope the General Assembly will move much closer to the gift bans that Governor McAuliffe and I have implemented,” Herring said in a statement.
McAuliffe has announced plans for a new ethics commissions to create legislation regarding the amount of gifts politicians can receive. Virginia is currently one of eight states that does not have an ethics commission to investigate office holders.
The Virginia legislature already passed legislation to deal with ethics in politics — creating what would have been the Virginia Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Advisory Commission — but in June, McAuliffe vetoed it, stating that anything passed needed to be tougher.
“The ethics reform bill passed by the General Assembly was far weaker than what Virginians deserve of proper ethics reform,” McAuliffe said in a statement on the 2015-16 Budget Actions. “I plan to present revised legislation to the 2015 General Assembly session […] and the creation of a new bureaucracy beforehand would be unwise and premature. I also question the constitutionality of the commission given its scope of responsibilities.”
Virginia is also one of 11 states that has no limit on the gifts that governors may accept. Current law requires officials to only disclose gifts worth more than $50 and excludes any gifts presented to immediate family.
“The real problem here is that Virginia’s ethics laws remain very weak,” Kondik said. “There’s certainly going to be more self-policing on gifts by legislators going forward. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that self-policing isn’t enough: the state’s ethics and gift laws need to be made significantly tougher.”