McDonnell makes history

Joey Matthews | 9/12/2014, 10:03 a.m.
History will surely remember Bob McDonnell. Just not the way he had envisioned.
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell exits federal court after being found guilty of corruption charges. Photo by Paulette Singleton

History will surely remember Bob McDonnell.

Just not the way he had envisioned.

He’s the former Virginia governor, attorney general and state delegate who once was considered potential vice presidential timber.

Now 60, he has made history as the first current or former Virginia governor to be indicted and become a convicted felon. He could soon become the first to go to prison.

The guilty verdict led to calls from once reluctant Republicans in the legislature for tightening of Virginia’s ethics reform laws for elected officials.

The convictions capped a stunning 24-day trial. After three days of deliberations in the Virginia trial of the century, a 12-member federal jury found Mr. McDonnell guilty on 11 of 14 counts of corruption and former First Lady Maureen McDonnell guilty on nine of 14 counts.

Mr. McDonnell broke down in sobs as the verdicts were read last Thursday in a packed courtroom in the U.S. District Courthouse in Downtown. His wife later cried as she hugged family outside the courtroom.

As the former first couple emerged from the courthouse, reporters swarmed around them, shouting questions.

A shaken Mr. McDonnell thanked the media “for the way you’ve handled this.”

He added, “All I can say is that my trust remains in the Lord.”

Both are vowing to appeal the unanimous decision of the seven white and five black jurors.

That must wait until after Judge James R. Spencer sentences them, now scheduled for Jan. 6.

Based on similar convictions of public figures, expectations are that the McDonnells would receive sentences of two to five years likely in minimum-security facilities.

Before trial, the former governor had rejected a plea deal to one count that would have kept Mrs. McDonnell from serving time and limited him to minimum time.

Judge Spencer could allow the McDonnells to remain free during the appeals process or order them to prison if he sentences them to time behind bars.

Unless the appeals court throws out the verdicts, the convictions also would cost Mr. McDonnell his license to practice law and result in the loss of his state pension and other retirement benefits. Convicted felons lose state retirement benefits under legislation that Mr. McDonnell ironically signed into law as governor.

The case centered on the McDonnells’ relationship with Jonnie Williams, the former chief executive of a Mechanicsville-based firm called Star Scientific, which touted its dietary supplement Anatabloc as a potential cure of Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic illnesses.

On appeal, attorneys for the McDonnells are likely to argue that prosecutors failed to prove the former first couple engaged in what’s known as “honest services fraud,” that is they took gifts from Mr. Williams in exchange for tangible, official acts by the governor to advance Anatabloc.

Mr. McDonnell insisted at trial that Mr. Williams never asked for or received anything in exchange for the gifts and loans, and even Mr. Williams acknowledged on the stand he did not have any agreement with the governor.

Indeed, Mr. McDonnell came close to the helping Mr. Williams as the administration of Gov. Mark R. Warner, now a U.S. senator, did.