Prosecutors: McDonnells Indulged in Gifts, Favors From CEO

The first time Jonnie Williams met Maureen McDonnell, she mentioned she needed a new dress for her husband's inaugural ball. Williams offered to help Virginia's former first lady.

Williams, the businessman at the heart of the ongoing corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, took the stand Wednesday for the first time to describe what he said was a "business relationship" with the former first couple.

Prosecutors say the McDonnells accepted lavish gifts from Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplement maker Star Scientific, in exchange for promoting his business while Bob McDonnell was in office.

Williams, who has been granted immunity, described some of those gifts in court.

He said he first met the McDonnells in New York, after the election, and Maureen told him she had a problem: She needed a dress for the inauguration. Williams said that he then offered to buy her one, but the governor's lawyers nixed the plan.

Later, however, Williams said Maureen told him he could buy her a dress.

What followed, Williams said, was a luxury shopping spree in New York, where he bought her $20,000 worth of high-end designer dresses and accessories from the likes of Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton and Oscar de la Renta.

One month later, Williams testified, Maureen McDonnell told him she could help him with his business, with her husband's permission, provided he help her with "this financial situation," as Williams recounted their conversation.

Williams ended up writing two checks to the McDonnells, one for $50,000 for an informal, undocumented loan and another for $15,000 for their daughter's wedding catering — both of which Williams said he made sure to inform the governor of before delivery.

"He's the breadwinner in his house," Williams said. "I'm not writing his wife checks without him knowing about it."

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 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.

The jury also heard testimony Wednesday from the couple's son, Bobby McDonnell. He said that he viewed Williams as a mentor, and that Williams had given him golf clubs in a University of Virginia golf bag as a gift. He also said that his father was angry when he found out about the gift, and told him to return the clubs.

The prosecution alleges that there were many other gifts that the family received, too -- including yacht rentals, vacations and use of Williams' private plane -- gifts that far exceed those one would expect from a personal friend.

In court Wednesday, Williams' former assistant, Jerri Fulkerson, testified that she was often the one making arrangements for McDonnell family trips. She's been given immunity from charges to testify.

Prosecutors walked Fulkerson through emails and documents showing all the things Williams gave the McDonnell family: golf outings, vacations, yacht rentals, use of Williams' private plane,
loans for $20,000 and $50,000 to their real estate company, a $10,000 wedding gift to the McDonnells' daughter Jeanine and the loan of a Ferrari while the couple vacationed at Williams' multimillion-dollar vacation home on Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.

Defense attorneys tried to tarnish Fulkerson's credibility by spotlighting the many times she signed Williams name on business documents.

Documents obtained by News4 Wednesday illuminate some of the favors allegedly bestowed on the former first couple of Virginia, including:

  • a copy of a check for $50,000 made out to Maureen McDonnell on May 23, 2011, and signed by Fulkerson
  • an invoice of $15,897.00 from Seasons Fine Catering for daughter Cailin McDonnell Young's wedding in June 2011, as well as a check for $15,000 made out to "Great Seasons Catering," also signed by Fulkerson on May 23, 2011
  • email chains between Fulkerson and a McDonnell staffer arranging flights for Bob and Maureen McDonnell on Williams' jet
  • an email with an attached photograph of Bob and Maureen McDonnell in a Ferrari convertible

"See attached picture. HOT STUFF!!!" the McDonnells' son-in-law, Christopher Young, wrote in that email to other family members, including the couple.

In addition to providing lodging, Williams rented a boat for the McDonnells, and had a Star Scientific employee drive his Ferrari from Richmond to the lake for the McDonnells.

"What the jury is hearing, of course, is that these gifts were very, very substantial," said Virginia political analyst Robert Holsworth. "It's very, very clear extent of gifts given to the McDonnells by Jonnie Williams was far beyond what we normally would get from a personal friend."

The McDonnells' trial should last five to six weeks.

Stay with News4 and for more as Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) reports from Richmond.

NBC Washington staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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