Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife have been found guilty of most of the public corruption charges they faced in a marathon trial centered on lavish gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman.
The former governor has been found guilty of 11 of the 13 charges against him. Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell has been found guilty of nine of the 13 charges against her.
It was a bombshell ending to a trial that included the dissection of the former first couple's marriage, testimony that Bob had moved out and was living with a priest, and testimony that Maureen had begun frequently texting and emailing the businessman in the case, Jonnie Williams, who wanted help promoting his dietary supplement.
Three of the McDonnells' five children clutched each others' hands and prayed before the verdict was announced, breaking into sobs as their parents' guilty counts were read aloud.
The couple's son Bobby McDonnell looked at his father with tear-glazed eyes as the former governor's head collapsed into his hands.
Bob McDonnell is "broken" and "devastated," said defense attorney Henry Asbill, who added that he would appeal the verdict.
The government had accused the McDonnells of doing special favors for Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplement maker Star Scientific, Inc., in exchange for more than $177,000 in gifts and loans.
Courtroom observers said two jurors wiped their eyes as the verdicts were read.
As co-defendants, the former first couple was separated in the courtroom, with three lawyers sitting between them. Maureen McDonnell teared up, but appeared composed compared to the emotional reactions of her husband and children.
The McDonnells didn't look at each other as the verdict was read. They left the Richmond courthouse together but got into separate cars. It was a marked difference from the rest of the trial, which verged into soap opera territory as defense lawyers suggested that the McDonnells' marriage was so broken they could not have conspired to obtain gifts, trips and loans from Williams.
Throughout the trial, Bob McDonnell had appeared confident, telling reporters repeatedly that he was sure he would be exonerated and was putting his faith in God.
"All I can say is my trust remains in the Lord," he said in a brief statement as he left the courthouse Thursday with Maureen, before they got into separate cars.
McDonnell, who was once considered a rising GOP star and potential vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney in 2012, now faces, along with his wife, up to 30 years in federal prison when they're sentenced in January.
"This is a difficult and disappointing day for the Commonwealth and its citizens," said Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "Public service frequently requires sacrifice, and almost always requires financial sacrifice. When public officials turn to financial gain in exchange for official acts, we have no choice but to prosecute the case."
Bob McDonnell is the first former governor of Virginia to be convicted of a crime. The commonwealth had long had a reputation for clean politics, a reputation shattered in the five-week McDonnell trial.
Political analyst Bob Holsworth called it "a day of infamy in Virginia."
The Verdict, Count by Count
Bob and Maureen McDonnell were each charged with 13 counts in a 14-count indictment:
- In the first count against them, the McDonnells were found guilty of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud for accepting gifts and loans from Williams.
- The next three charges, counts 2-4, involved accepting checks from Williams: On counts 2 and 3, the McDonnells were both found guilty of honest-services wire fraud for accepting a $15,000 check to pay a caterer for their daughter's wedding, and for accepting a $50,000 loan check for MoBo Real Estate, a company the former governor operated with his sister.
- On count 4, Bob McDonnell was also found guilty of a count of honest-services wire fraud for a $20,000 wire transfer for MoBo. Maureen McDonnell was found not guilty on that charge.
- On count 5, the McDonnells were found guilty of conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right for the gifts and loans they received.
- The McDonnells also faced six charges of obtaining property under color of official right, counts 6-11: On counts 6-8, they were found guilty of three charges of obtaining property under color of official right for a $50,000 check to Maureen, for the $15,000 check to the wedding caterer, and for a $2,380 golf outing.
- On count 9, Bob McDonnell was found guilty of obtaining property under color of official right for a $1,424 golf outing. Maureen McDonnell was found not guilty of that charge.
- On count 10, both McDonnells were found guilty of obtaining property under color of official right for the $50,000 check to MoBo.
- On count 11, Bob McDonnell was found guilty of obtaining property under color of official right for the $20,000 transfer to MoBo. Maureen McDonnell was found not guilty of that charge.
- Only Bob McDonnell was charged with count 12. He was found not guilty of making false statements on a TowneBank loan application.
- In count 13, both McDonnells were found not guilty of making false statements on a PenFed loan application.
- Only Maureen McDonnell was charged with count 14. She was found guilty of obstruction of official proceeding for a handwritten note to Williams.
They will be sentenced Jan. 6, 2015.
Inside the Testimony
The trial centered on the testimony of the former governor and Williams, the prosecution's star witness. Maureen McDonnell did not take the stand.
Williams was granted immunity for his dealings with the McDonnells and possible securities fraud violations, which had been investigated by a separate grand jury. He testified that he spent lavishly on the McDonnells to secure their help promoting and obtaining state-backed research for Star Scientific's tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory supplement, Anatabloc. Williams intended to share the results of that research with doctors to gain their support of the product.
Prosecutors claimed the former first couple had an "unconscionable amount" of credit card debt and presented testimony that they were eager to accept gifts from Williams, including a $6,500 Rolex watch that Maureen gave Bob for Christmas, a vacation at Williams’ luxurious home on Smith Mountain Lake outside Roanoke, use of Williams' Ferrari and a shopping spree for designer clothes and accessories for Maureen.
Testimony showed Williams loaned $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell that she used to pay down credit debt in 2011. He also loaned $50,000 and $20,000 to MoBo Real Estate, a small company that Bob McDonnell and one of his sisters ran to operate two beach properties.
Prosecutors also said Williams paid $15,000 in catering expenses when one of the McDonnells' daughters got married. And they claimed Maureen had developed a close relationship with Williams, exchanging more than 1,200 texts and calls over a nearly two-year period, including 52 in one day.
In his defense, Bob McDonnell testified he did nothing more than extend routine political courtesies to Williams. Before the indictment, he had apologized for what he described as bad judgment and said he had repaid about $120,000 in gifts and loans, but denied breaking any laws.
A key part of the defense strategy was the claim that the McDonnells couldn't have conspired, because their marriage had deteriorated to the point that Bob McDonnell had moved out and was now living with a priest, who is a family friend. Maureen McDonnell's lawyers called Williams her "favorite playmate."
Both the prosecution and the defense called Maureen volatile and emotional. One prosecution witness called her a "nut bag." Bob McDonnell himself said his wife didn't take well to the role of first lady, calling her handling of behind-the-scenes matters "a disaster." Testimony revealed staff members at the governor's mansion had threatened to resign en masse.
Judge: 'Can't Take Another Second'
After lengthy days of intense testimony -- on day four, the judge in the case said he was stopping testimony because he "can't take another second" -- the jury faced the task of deciding the McDonnells' guilt or innocence.
Judge James R. Spencer issued lengthy instructions to the jury Tuesday morning, including the warning that the testimony of a witness who is granted immunity must be more closely examined than testimony of other witnesses.
The heightened scrutiny was required to determine whether the testimony of the immunized witness is "affected by self-interest," Spencer said.
To be found guilty, Spencer said, a defendant must understand the nature of the conspiracy and deliberately join it.
However, Spencer said a conspiracy does not have to achieve its goals, which could have undercut a defense claim that Williams never received anything of substance, including the research he took preliminary steps to seek.
He also said an agreement need not be stated explicitly by the conspirators and that it didn't matter whether the defendant would have done those favors absent a bribe.
Spencer also told jurors -- who heard from three character witnesses, two for Bob McDonnell and one for his wife -- that "evidence of good character alone may create a reasonable doubt as to a defendant's guilt."