Former Va. governor's attorney vows to appeal
- Article by: LARRY O'DELL
- Associated Press
- September 5, 2014 - 9:00 AM
RICHMOND, Va. — Kathleen L. Carmody said she voted for Bob McDonnell and thought he was "terrific for Virginia" as governor — but as a juror in McDonnell's corruption trial, she was compelled to convict him.
"The facts spoke for themselves," she told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday not long after she and fellow jurors found McDonnell guilty on 11 of 13 counts. McDonnell's wife, Maureen, was convicted of nine of 13 charges.
The case derailed the career of the onetime rising Republican star. Bob McDonnell's attorney, Henry Asbill, said his client did not receive a fair trial and will appeal. Asbill reiterated his previous statement that prosecutors sought to criminalize routine political behavior.
"I have no idea what the jury deliberated about," Asbill said. "There are a lot of things about the case that (you) can sit back and think about but it's hard to tell when the die was cast."
Maureen McDonnell's attorney, William Burck, declined to comment.
McDonnell and his wife now face up to 20 years in prison on each count, although a presentencing report by the federal probation office will result in a lighter recommendation. Sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 6.
An ashen Bob McDonnell, who wept as the verdicts were read, was mobbed by TV cameras before being whisked from the federal courthouse in a blue Mercedes.
"All I can say is that my trust remains in the Lord," he said quietly.
Carmody said it was wrenching to watch the McDonnell family's teary reaction.
"When the verdicts were read, you could not be human and not feel sorry, or empathy or compassion for the McDonnell family," she said.
"We all feel bad," added fellow juror Robin Trujillo. "Their lives are going to be turned upside down. It wasn't easy at all, but we have to follow the law, and the law and the facts fit together."
The McDonnells' defense strategy depended in large part on convincing jurors that their marriage itself was a fraud and they were unable to speak to each other, let alone conspire to accept bribes. They left the courtroom separately — first Bob and then Maureen, who hugged one of her daughters and wept loudly on the way out.
The McDonnells were convicted on nearly all the counts involving doing favors for wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans they admitted taking.
Maureen McDonnell also was convicted of obstructing justice after the scandal broke, by returning designer clothes Williams had bought for her during a New York shopping trip, along with a handwritten note suggesting they had agreed Williams could give the dress to his daughters or to charity.
Jurors acquitted them of lying on loan applications that failed to mention the money Williams lent them.
The former governor, his head in his hands, began crying as soon as he heard the first sob from his daughter Cailin. Other family members and supporters followed suit. The weeping became louder, and McDonnell's sobbing grew more intense, with each successive finding of guilt.
Testifying in his own defense, McDonnell insisted that he provided nothing more than routine political courtesies to the former CEO of Star Scientific, a Virginia-based dietary supplements company. His wife's lawyers, meanwhile, said Williams preyed on her vulnerability after she developed a "crush" on the businessman.
Maureen McDonnell did not take the stand even as her private life was exposed, with staff from the governor's mansion and aides testifying about her erratic behavior and angry outbursts. One former aide acknowledged telling investigators her old boss was a "nutbag."
Williams, who testified under immunity, said he spent freely on the McDonnells to secure their help promoting his tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory supplement Anatabloc as a treatment for ulcers, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. Williams declined to comment on the verdicts, his attorney said.
His gifts included nearly $20,000 in apparel and accessories for Maureen McDonnell, a $6,500 engraved Rolex watch for Bob, $15,000 in catering for Cailin's wedding, free family vacations and golf outings for their boys. Williams also provided three loans totaling $120,000.
As the gifts rolled in, the McDonnells appeared at promotional events and even hosted a launch luncheon for Anatabloc at the governor's mansion. Williams and his associates also were allowed into a reception for Virginia health care leaders at the mansion, and McDonnell arranged meetings with state health officials as Williams sought state money and the credibility of Virginia's universities for research that would support Anatabloc.
Defense lawyers argued that none of these were favors for bribes, because the governor didn't consider the favors to be anything special, the research grant applications were never submitted, and being first lady isn't an official position.
Witnesses — including the former governor himself — said Maureen McDonnell despised being first lady, and was prone to such rage that the mansion staff threatened a mass resignation. McDonnell said he began working unnecessarily late, just to avoid her anger.
While they initially showed up at the courthouse hand-in-hand for pretrial hearings, they split up once the judge refused to try them separately, and the former governor testified that they were living apart during the trial.
The defense introduced a September 2011 email from McDonnell to his wife lamenting the deterioration of their marriage, complaining about her "fiery anger" and begging her to work with him to repair the relationship.
While several witnesses described the first lady's relationship with Williams as inappropriate and flirtatious, none suggested it was physical, and Williams testified that his dealings with both McDonnells were all business.
Prosecutors said the McDonnells turned to Williams in desperation because they were grappling with $90,000 in credit card debt and annual losses of $40,000 to $60,000 on family-owned vacation rentals in Virginia Beach. Williams said he wrote the first $50,000 check to Maureen after she complained about their money troubles and offered to help his company.
Virginia has among the nation's weakest political ethics laws and McDonnell repeatedly stressed that he did nothing to violate them. But this case was federal, and both prosecutors and FBI officials said the verdicts send a message that state laws provide no shelter from corruption prosecutions.
"The FBI will engage, and engage vigorously to any credible allegation of corruption," said Adam S. Lee, special agent in charge of the Richmond's FBI bureau.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats who were elected as the scandal developed, have imposed strict gift bans and ethics policies on their own staff, and called for tougher rules than the ethics reform that passed the General Assembly earlier this year.
"We have a long way to go to restore the public's trust," Herring said in a statement. "It should be crystal clear that the people of Virginia deserve real ethics reform."
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