Ex-gov­er­nor’s wife in eye of the storm Deal­ings with busi­ness­man at center of cor­rup­tion probe

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

When re­ports sur­faced that for­mer Vir­ginia Gov. Bob McDon­nell had ac­cepted an en­graved Rolex from a wealthy busi­ness­man, some ques­tioned the judg­ment of the clean-cut for­mer prose­cu­tor whose as­cen­dance to higher of­fice was un­ques­tion­ably pos­si­ble — if not down­right prob­a­ble.

Like many of the other gifts and loans for which the for­mer gov­er­nor now faces fed­eral cor­rup­tion charges, it was ar­ranged by his wife, Mau­reen.

Ac­cord­ing to charges laid out in a 43page fed­eral in­dict­ment, Mrs. McDon­nell is at the center of a case that ap­pears to show a fam­ily stretched be­yond its means fi­nan­cially but one that rev­eled in perks en­joyed by so­ci­ety’s up­per crust.

In the sum­mer of 2011 — right around the time that the busi­ness­man, for­mer Star Sci­en­tific CEO Jon­nie R. Wil­liams Sr., was talk­ing about get­ting Vir­ginia uni­ver­si­ties in­volved in clin­i­cal tri­als for an an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory drug — Mrs. McDon­nell no­ticed his watch, court doc­u­ments al­lege.

Mr. Wil­liams was ac­tu­ally con­cerned whether the gov­er­nor would ac­tu­ally wear “such a lux­ury watch given his role as a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.”

Mrs. McDon­nell told Mr. Wil­liams she wanted him to buy a watch for her hus­band. When Mr. Wil­liams con­tacted her to ask what she wanted en­graved, she is said to have told him “71st Gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia.”

But the in­dict­ment not only high­lights Mrs. McDon­nell’s ex­pen­sive tastes — re­count­ing a list of 27 sep­a­rate gifts that in­cludes de­signer clothes and sev­eral pairs of high-end Louis Vuit­ton shoes — it de­tails how she fa­cil­i­tated con­tact be­tween the gov­er­nor and Mr. Wil­liams.

For ex­am­ple, the charges de­scribe how, af­ter Mr. Wil­liams dropped more than $18,000 on an April 13, 2011, shop­ping trip for her in New York City, she en­sured that he was seated next to the gov­er­nor dur­ing a Union League Club event that evening.

Still, an­a­lysts say a wide gap ex­ists be­tween what looks dis­taste­ful and what could be con­sid­ered il­le­gal.

Peter H. White, a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor for the East­ern Dis­trict of Vir­ginia, said that none of what hap­pened in­volved Mr. McDon­nell act­ing in his “of­fi­cial” ca­pac­ity to as­sist Mr. Wil­liams with pro­mot­ing the health sup­ple­ment Anat­abloc in ex­change for the gifts and loans.

“There’s no al­le­ga­tion of what is typ­i­cally con­sid­ered an of­fi­cial act by Gov­er­nor McDon­nell for a quid pro quo,” Mr. White said.

He also said it struck him as “un­usual” that in a pub­lic cor­rup­tion case there were so many charges lev­eled against the pri­vate cit­i­zen — in this case Mrs. McDon­nell — and not the for­mer elected of­fi­cial.

Mr. McDon­nell has al­ready at­trib­uted the charges to po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated over­reach on the part of an overzeal­ous Jus­tice Depart­ment. One of the key­stones of his de­fense is the ar­gu­ment that if what Vir­ginia’s for­mer first fam­ily did is a crime, vir­tu­ally ev­ery pub­lic of­fi­cial could be con­victed for hold­ing photo op­por­tu­ni­ties with cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives and oth­ers with busi­ness be­fore the gov­ern­ment.

Paul Gold­man, a lawyer and for­mer chair­man of the Demo­cratic Party of Vir­ginia, said the hur­dle for a grand jury to re­turn an in­dict­ment is com­pletely dif­fer­ent than the bar for an ac­tual crim­i­nal con­vic­tion.

“You need 50.1 per­cent to get an in­dict­ment, but 99.9 per­cent to get a con­vic­tion,” he said. “There’s a huge dif­fer­ence.”

Mr. Gold­man said another fac­tor in the case is the re­li­a­bil­ity of Mr. Wil­liams, a car sales­man-turned-en­tre­pre­neur who has co­op­er­ated with pros­e­cu­tors.

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