Fallen Virginia governor indicted for corruption protests innocence

US politician once seen as a potential vice-presidential candidate received luxury gifts, trips and loans from businessman, prosecutors say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 12:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 4:56pm

A former US state governor once talked of as a Republican vice-presidential candidate was indicted for corruption on Tuesday, charged with procuring loans and luxury gifts in exchange for favours.

Ex-governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell, who led the state from 2010 until January 11 this year, and wife Maureen were charged with 14 felony counts, including wire fraud and receiving property based on their official duties.

Authorities said the couple repeatedly turned to businessman Jonnie Williams Sr seeking loans, clothes, trips and private plane rides.

Then, federal prosecutors said, the pair conspired to try and help Williams’ business, a former cigarette maker that now sells dietary supplements.

“I did nothing illegal for Mr Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship.”
Ex-governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell

McDonnell apologised for what he called his own “bad judgment,” and said he took full responsibility but insisted he had done nothing against Virginia law by accepting gifts.

“I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologised for my poor judgment,” the former governor told The Washington Post.

“However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship.”

McDonnell also promised to “use every available resource and advocate” to “fight these false allegations, and to prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government.”

The McDonnells in 2010 sought, according to prosecutors, the help of Williams, then head of Nasdaq-traded Star Scientific.

The couple conspired, authorities charge, “to secretly use [his] official position as Governor of Virginia to enrich the defendants and their family members by soliciting and accepting payments, loans, gifts, and other things of value from JW and Star Scientific in exchange for [McDonnell and his office] performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arose, to legitimise, promote, and obtain research studies for Star Scientific’s products.”

Before the couple’s daughter wed, Williams shelled out US$11,000 at Oscar de la Renta and US$5,685 at Louis Vuitton, for Mrs McDonnell’s shoes and a handbag.

Her husband received a Rolex engraved with the words “71st governor of Virginia.” In total, the couple received at least US$140,000 in luxury gifts.

The scandal enveloped McDonnell, who previously had a squeaky-clean reputation. The 59-year-old was on the shortlist to become running-mate for Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012.