McDonnell Trial: Bob McDonnell's Sister Says She Could Help Him Financially Anytime

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    NEWSLETTERS

    On day two for the defense in the corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell, the former governor's sister took the stand -- delivering more damaging testimony on the former first lady, and disputing allegations about the couple's finances. (Published Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014)

    The most critical testimony from former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s sister Tuesday concerned the tiny company she shared with her brother to manage finances of two beach properties. Prosecutors revealed tens of thousands of dollars in red ink and said financial desperation drove the governor to trade his influence for former CEO of dietary supplement maker Star Scientific, Inc. Jonnie Williams’ gifts and loans.

    Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams. In exchange, the couple promoted Willams' company's products, particularly a supplement called Anatabloc.

    Bob McDonnell's sister and business partner, who is also named Maureen McDonnell, took the stand in her brother's defense Tuesday in the couple's ongoing public corruption trial.

    Throughout the trial, jurors have heard a lot about the company Bob McDonnell and his sister Maureen C. McDonnell shared: MoBo Real Estate Partners -- the company that received $70,000 in loans from Williams.

    Staffer's Relationship With Maureen McDonnell 'Deteriorated Past Common Sense'

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    On Day 1 for the defense in the McDonnell corruption trial, a parade of former cabinet secretaries took the stand, including one who painted a very stark contrast between the former governor and his wife. (Published Monday, Aug 18, 2014)

    Prosecutors say financial desperation led the governor to trade his influence for Williams' gifts and loans.

    But Maureen C. McDonnell -- who earned more than a half million dollars in 2012 -- testified that she could have helped her brother or erased MoBo's red ink at any time.

    A defense attorney asked, "If he [Bob McDonnell] needed money, did he know he could come to you?"

    "Absolutely he did," Maureen C. McDonnell said.

    But on cross examination, prosecutors challenged her claim, asking if that were true, why did MoBo rack up so many bank late fees and even get the water cut off at the beach houses for failure to pay bills.

    Maureen C. McDonnell blamed the man who had handled the MoBo finances for years, her ex-husband Michael Uncapher. She further explained she had fallen ill after the birth of her daughter, and her husband was tasked with taking care of the whole family.

    She also testified that loans from Williams were not the only option, just the first, and when she paid them back in summer 2013, she simply made a withdrawal from a 401K and sold some stock.

    "It was a couple of phone calls," she said.

    Williams wasn't the first friend of the first lady to loan money to MoBo. First presented by Maureen McDonnell as potential buyers of a beach property, Dr. Paul Davis and his wife instead agreed to a $50,000 loan in three payments to be paid back in five years, which they paid off ahead of schedule.

    The final witness Tuesday testified as an expert to the financial strength of Maureen C. McDonnell, Bob and Maureen McDonnell, and MoBo.

    But prosecutors brought up accountant J. Allen Kosowsky's fee, $420 per hour after an unexplained 20 percent discount. He testified he's earned $60,000-$80,000 on this trial including about $3,000 for appearing in court Tuesday.

    Cross examination of Kosowsky continues Wednesday.

    McDonnell's Sister: Couple's Relationship Went "From Bad to Worse"

    Maureen C. McDonnell also testified about the former first lady's two sides: One sweet and tender; the other manipulative, unpredictable and deceitful.

    Maureen C. McDonnell returned from a March 2012 trip to Jamaica to text messages from her sister-in-law about a package that included a $50,000 check from Williams. She testified she and Uncapher called the first lady, who hung up when she heard Uncapher's voice because she only wanted to speak to the governor's sister.

    Maureen C. McDonnell said she later called her brother and talked about personal things like the trip, an attempt at reconciliation with her husband who had just moved back in after a months-long separation, though she later admitted the check was probably at least mentioned. Then she received a text from the first lady complaining that she had reached out to her brother, saying she had worked on the loan for a year, not Bob McDonnell.

    In another phone call between Bob and his sister the next day, Maureen C. McDonnell heard the first lady screaming similar complaints in the background.

    Maureen C. McDonnell testified about warm memories of how first lady Maureen P. McDonnell helped care for the McDonnell siblings' mother when she was dying. But she also spoke of hearing or seeing the former first lady hide things from Bob McDonnell, work a situation to her benefit and be untruthful about it to her husband.

    Bob McDonnell's youngest sister also described what she witnessed in the couple's relationship over the decades.

    Maureen C. McDonnell was just 7 or 8 years old when she met her future sister-in-law after Bob McDonnell began dating her. Over the years, she saw ups and downs, but once her brother became governor, the couple's relationship went "from bad to worse," she said.

    On Tuesday, Maureen C. McDonnell offered the most specific testimony yet about trouble in the first couple's marriage. The defense contends it's one reason they couldn't have criminally conspired to get gifts and loans from businessman Williams.

    She testified that sometimes it seemed like the couple barely communicated. But she also recalled a phone call with her brother in which she could hear the first lady yelling at the governor in background.

    "I saw the strain on their relationship after he became governor," she said.

    Recently, at Bob McDonnell's 60th birthday party this summer, the couple's daughter Cailin asked her parents to dance, said Maureen C. McDonnell. They did, but Bob McDonnell's sister described it as the public face of the couple's relationship and not how they were in private.

    She testified that her sister-in-law wasn't suited to life as first lady of Virginia. Once, when Bob McDonnell's sister was asked to attend a vitamin party in Virginia Beach, the first lady told her, "I'd like to see you before I have to go back to that prison mansion."

    Bob McDonnell's sister said former first lady Maureen P. McDonnell was known as a "vitamin nut," always touting some sort of vitamin or supplement. The defense appeared to be trying to establish that the first lady could support Jonnie Williams because she actually believed in his product Anatabloc.

    Maureen C. McDonnell also described her brother's character, how their relationship evolved over the years, and how she came to see him as her best friend. Her oldest brother always "walked the talk" when it came to commitment to family and public service, and always did the right thing, she said.

    She testified that she and her brother used to talk a few times a week, but after he took office, they talked or texted a few times a week. The court heard similar testimony from McDonnell cabinet members about the governor's busy schedule.

    Former first lady Maureen P. McDonnell’s special assistant also testified Tuesday.

    Kathleen Scott worked for the first lady for 21 months beginning in October 2011. Scott testified about how much Maureen McDonnell liked Jonnie Williams.

    Though Scott didn’t observe them together, when Williams was discussed, "She seemed enamored with him, infatuated. I think he made her feel special."

    Scott said Maureen McDonnell would use the governor’s name to get her way, which she did at the 2012 National Governor’s Association meeting in Williamsburg. Wanting to put Anatabloc in the gift bags for spouses, the first lady said it was the governor wanted it in the bags, Scott said.

    "I knew it didn’t come from the governor," she said.

    On cross examination, Scott testified she never discussed the gift bags with the governor.

    As such events approached, the first lady would fuss at the governor, but he would ignore her, Scott said. At the events, "They were a great team," she said.

    Scott also testified about Maureen McDonnell's behavior at the governor's mansion. Scott said she hoped she could help calm the first lady by organizing her vanity. At first sight, the first lady seemed to love it, but the next day she was upset that she wouldn't be able to prepare for an event because nothing in the vanity was where she had left it.

    The mansion staff hoped for help from VCU 's Jim Burke, who'd been hired to consult on putting that team together. He advised the staff cope by approaching Maureen McDonnell as if they were dealing with a 5-year-old.

    Scott was among the mansion staff to sign a letter of resignation presented to either Martin Kent or Janet Kelly -- two of the governor's top aides -- though no one actually resigned.

    As he entered court Tuesday, Bob McDonnell commented on the harsh portrait of his wife that has emerged during the trial, saying, "It's very difficult. No one likes to talk about their marriage in front of the entire country, but this is part of the case."

    After the jury entered the courtroom still intact since Monday -- when one juror was excused because of a family emergency, leaving just one alternate remaining -- U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer told them, "I lifted each one of you up in prayer last and I'm glad to see you."

    Tuesday marked the second day of testimony for the defense, after three weeks of hearing from prosecution witnesses.

    On Monday, Bob McDonnell's attorneys called five witnesses to the stand. Four were former members of McDonnell's cabinet, and the other was director of a state tobacco commission.

    They testified that McDonnell never asked them to do anything to benefit nutritional supplements maker Star Scientific or its former CEO, Jonnie Williams.

    Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly said she loved working for the then-governor, but described Maureen McDonnell's behavior as "challenging."