McDonnell Trial: McDonnells Were Not My Friends, Williams Says

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey reports on the testimony of Jonnie Williams at the corruption trial of former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen Thursday.

    Former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams will take the stand again Friday in the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, after the judge cut off defense questioning Thursday, saying, "We're going to stop here because I can't take another second."

    Williams, a key witness in the trial, testified that at an event, he inadvertently introduced Maureen McDonnell as "the governor of Virginia" -- and when corrected, he told her, "You're the governor to me."

    The testimony comes two days after lawyers for Maureen McDonnell said that she had developed a crush on businessman Williams, who allegedly gave the couple more than $165,000 in gifts and loans for help promoting the Star Scientific dietary supplement Anatabloc.

    "The McDonnells were not my friends," Williams said.

    He also testified he did not have a romantic relationship with Maureen McDonnell. The defense said it will show she was so smitten with Williams, that she couldn't have been criminally conspiring with her husband.

    Though the former governor's defense team continued to allege the first lady was primarily responsible for the gifts, the prosecution also presented evidence connecting the governor and Williams directly. A text message from Bob McDonnell to Williams dated May 18, 2012, reads in part, "Jonnie per voice mail would like to see if you could extend another 20k if possible." Williams replied, "Tell me who to make it out to and address. Will FedEx. -Jonnie"

    Prosecutors also presented evidence of a one-on-one meeting between Williams and the governor when they discussed how Williams might loan the McDonnells 50,000 shares of stock while keeping them in his name. During the meeting, Williams expressed that he would "just assume keep this between us" and McDonnell agreed.

    Later on in his testimony, Williams said he made a mistake when he bought a Rolex watch for the governor at the first lady's request.

    The watch was passed to the jury, where each juror briefly handled and inspected it. It's an important piece of evidence because it represents a tangible chunk of the secret gifts prosecutors say the McDonnells received from Williams. Other monetary gifts and loans can't be presented in court for jurors to hold.

    Williams said he purchased the watch at Malibu Jewelers for between $6,000 and $7,000 after Maureen McDonnell admired a watch Williams wore to a meeting and commented that she wanted one for her husband.

    "I was sitting there and she noticed my watch," Williams testified. "She said, 'Jonnie, what kind of watch is that?' I said, 'A Rolex.' She said, 'I'd really like to get one of those for the governor; he just wears these old watches."

    Williams said it was his wife Celeste's idea to have the gift engraved. When Williams called Maureen from the shop and asked what to engrave, she said "71st Governor of Virginia."

    Maureen allegedly gave it to the governor the following Christmas.

    "I thought it was wrong and a bad idea for anyone to know.... I made a mistake when I bought that watch. It was a bad business decision on my part," Williams said on the stand.

    Williams said Maureen McDonnell traveled with him to several out-of-state events promoting Anatabloc because of her credibility.

    Williams told the court about flying the former first lady to Florida in June 2011 for a Roskamp Institute event on his tobacco-based product Anatabloc. He said he asked Maureen if she wanted to speak at the luncheon, which she ultimately did.

    "She told everyone it was an honor to be there given her background in nutrition.... She thought what our company was doing was very important and she was there to lend her support," Williams said.

    He said Maureen ended her remarks by saying she was going to have a state trooper drive them to every doctor in Virginia to talk about Anatabloc.

    Videos playing at trial show Maureen McDonnell as an enthusiastic promoter of Williams and his company.

    Prosecutors also showed that the day after Williams gave the McDonnells and their children a weekend trip to his Smith Mountain Lake home -- which included a loaner Ferrari for them to drive -- Williams got a meeting with a Health and Service Department official in the executive mansion.

    Maureen McDonnell also arranged a lunch at the governor's mansion in 2011, inviting doctors from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia so Williams could pitch for them to do research on Anatabloc. Williams testified that he does not believe the lunch would have happened if not for the gifts.

    The defense began its questioning late Thursday and will resume Friday.

    Late in the day Wednesday, Williams described his relationship with the McDonnells.

    He said that when he first met Maureen McDonnell, she told him she needed a dress for her husband's inaugural ball, and he offered to buy her one.

    Williams' former assistant Jerri Fulkerson also testified about arranging trips for the McDonnell family and writing $70,000 in loan checks for the couple. She said that she was acting on Williams' orders. Prosecutors also showed the jury a list of documents that detailed the gifts that Williams bestowed on the family.

    Williams said he wrote the checks because he needed the governor's help obtaining research studies on his product at state medical schools. "I needed the flexibility that comes with his office," he said.

    Bob McDonnell thanked him, Williams testified.

    "This was a business relationship," he added, when asked if he thought the McDonnells were his close personal friends.

    The jury also heard from one of the McDonnells' sons, Bobby McDonnell. He said that Williams was like a mentor to him and gave him a bag of golf clubs as a gift, which Bobby McDonnell said his father told him to return.

    The McDonnells are being tried together for corruption but have their own lawyers, after having fought unsuccessfully for separate trials.

    Defense lawyers said Tuesday that the McDonnells' marriage was on the rocks, perhaps indicating to jurors that there was no way they could be scheming together if they were hardly talking.

    Maureen McDonnell's lawyer has said that she became Williams' "favorite playmate" and developed a crush on the businessman.