RICHMOND, Va. — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took bribes and sold his office to promote a sketchy nutritional supplement for a businessman who showered him and his wife with more than $165,000 in loans and gifts, including designer dresses and a Rolex watch, prosecutors said Friday.
In closing arguments, prosecutor David Harbach told jurors they needed to convict McDonnell even though the popular Republican, once considered a possible running mate for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was swept into office in a landslide five years ago.
“This is not how governors behave,” Harbach said.
The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment that accused them of conspiracy, bribery and filling out false loan applications. Maureen McDonnell also faced an obstruction charge. If convicted, they could face decades in prison.
The five-week, soap opera-like trial aired the McDonnells’ dirty laundry with testimony about the former first couple’s fights, crumbling marriage and financial troubles.
The McDonnells are being tried together, but have their own attorneys, who each got a chance to present their cases to jurors. A lawyer for Maureen McDonnell said her interactions with former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams may have been “tacky” but they were not illegal.
Attorney William Burck said the former first lady couldn’t have carried out any official acts to help Williams because she was not a public official and evidence of the McDonnells’ broken marriage showed she was operating independently of her husband in her dealings with Williams.
Attorneys for Bob McDonnell were to give closing arguments later Friday.
Harbach urged jurors to focus on two questions: Why did former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams shower the McDonnells with gifts and cash, and why did the McDonnells accept?
The answer, he said, was the McDonnells were badly in debt, and Williams was willing to provide help if they would promote his tobacco-based supplement, Anatabloc.
“That is bribery. That is corruption … the real thing,” Harbach said.
McDonnell earlier calmly and confidently testified in his own defense, saying the couple did nothing illegal and extended courtesies to Williams like any other elected official would.
Harbach said the only reason Williams did not get the state-backed scientific studies of Anatabloc that he wanted was because a McDonnell aide “shut it down.” While state officials rejected Williams’ requests, McDonnell never did, Harbach said.
“That’s because he was on the Jonnie Williams gravy train, and he and Jonnie Williams had a deal: Do what you can when opportunities arise and I’ll keep paying,” Harbach said.
Harbach challenged the former governor’s credibility, questioning McDonnell’s assertion that he knew nothing about an April 2011 shopping spree in New York City in which Williams spent nearly $20,000 on designer dresses and accessories for Maureen McDonnell to wear at her daughter’s wedding.
The former governor wasn’t on the shopping spree, but did sit next to Williams later that day at an event.
“Folks, how do you miss that?” Harbach said to the jury. “You decide who to believe.”
Williams, the prosecution’s star witness, testified under immunity that he spent lavishly on the McDonnells, including a $6,500 Rolex, only to secure their support for Anatabloc.
He also spent $15,000 on catering for a McDonnell daughter’s wedding and about $3,200 on golf outings for Bob McDonnell and his sons. Williams treated the McDonnells to a family vacation that included use of his Ferrari and issued three loans: $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell, which she used to pay credit cards bills and buy Star Scientific stock, and two checks totaling $70,000 to MoBo Realty, the money-losing Virginia Beach vacation rental house owned by Bob McDonnell and his sister.
Prosecutors said a product launch event at the governor’s mansion was outside the norm of usual courtesies. McDonnell took time to speak briefly, even though he was dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake and an approaching hurricane.
“Jonnie Williams was on cloud nine,” Harbach said. “This is exactly what he wanted. This is exactly what he was paying for.”