McDonnell Trial: Ex-Virginia Governor's Former Top Aide Testifies

The two beach houses that former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell owned with his sister lost as much as $60,000 a year, McDonnell's former brother-in-law testified Monday at the federal corruption trial of McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

Michael Uncapher used to be married to Bob McDonnell's sister; the couple divorced last year. And Uncapher says he kept up with the finances for the beach properties -- including being on the phone twice with Bob McDonnell's wife, Maureen, and ex-CEO Jonnie Williams as the two talked about the beach houses.

In 2012, Williams wrote two checks to help with the red ink, one for $50,000 and one for $20,000. Those checks are part of the case that prosecutors are trying to make against the McDonnells; they claim that the couple took more than $165,000 in gifts and loans in return for the former governor's support of Williams' company, Star Scientific, and its supplement Anatabloc.

But defense attorneys tried to counter the portrayal that the McDonnells turned to Williams because they were desperate for money. Uncapher testified his wife -- who was a partner with Bob McDonnell in a real estate company called MoBo -- made a half million dollars that year.

In other testimony, two top McDonnell administration officials recalled a March 2012 meeting that ended with Bob McDonnell pulling a bottle of Anatabloc out of his pocket and telling the group it had helped him.

Lisa Hicks-Thomas, the former secretary of administration, said she remembers McDonnell saying that he took the supplement, and that it "would be good for state employees, and he asked us if we
would meet with them."

But Sara Wilson, the director of the Virginia Department of Human Resources Management, remembered the incident slightly differently. "I had no idea why he pulled it out," Wilson said. "There was no ask. it was personal."

Earlier Monday, the onetime chief of staff to the former governor said he had no idea at the time that his boss had received thousands of dollars in gifts and loans from Williams.

Martin Kent testified that Star Scientific wasn't on his radar until just before a planned lunch at the governor's mansion in August 2011. He was alerted because Star Scientific was poised to issue a press release about the launch of Anatabloc -- and the release appeared to say it would happen at the mansion with the McDonnells' blessing.

Kent and other staffers made sure the company revised the news release. After that, it wasn't until news broke of the investigation into the gift scandal that he learned about Williams and Star Scientific.

Prosecutors asked Kent about the governor's reaction after investigators first met with Maureen McDonnell in February 2013.

"He was upset," Kent said. "He said the interview was not what it was purported to be. He was visibly upset."

Kent said that after news of the investigation broke in the media a few months later, he tried to ask McDonnell about the loans from Williams, but the governor wouldn't provide any information.

"I went to his office and asked generally about the loan, and he said it was a matter he was discussing with his counsel," Kent said.

Defense attorney Henry Asbill later countered by asking, "Did you ever hear my client ask for something to be done for Jonnie Williams or Star Scientific?"

Kent replied, "No."

There was also more testimony about the mansion lunch for Star Scientific in August 2011, the day the company launched a supplement called Anatabloc.

Kent testified about how there were three natural disasters the office was dealing with at the time: Hurricane Irene, the aftermath of a 5.8-magnitude earthquake, and a fire in the Great Dismal Swamp.

Prosecutors made the point that the governor still managed to get to the luncheon.

Nearly two dozen more photos were introduced into evidence Monday, showing Bob McDonnell behind the wheel of a Ferrari, driving home from Williams' lake home.

Kent said after that drive, the executive protection unit complained because they couldn't properly protect the governor. Kent says he told Bob McDonnell that his decision to drive himself had hurt morale.

"It had hurt morale; their primary job is to protect and they can't protect him if they are driving behind him," Kent said.

So far, the jury has heard from more than 25 prosecution witnesses. Among them is Williams himself, who was granted immunity by the government in exchange for his cooperation. He testified that he spent lavishly on the McDonnells solely to secure their help.

On Friday, a former Star Scientific executive described support from the McDonnells as a helpful "halo effect" at first, but said he didn't know that Williams was giving gifts to the McDonnells until 2013, when the investigation began.

Paul Perito, who served as Star Scientific's board chairman when Williams was CEO, said Williams was "on cloud nine" after the August 2011 luncheon at the governor's mansion on the day Star Scientific launched Anatabloc.

Even though Bob McDonnell arrived late, Perito said the governor's presence provided "gravitas" for the company.

He had a much different thought in early 2012, when Williams asked him whether Maureen McDonnell could join Star Scientific's board of directors.

"I thought it was the worst idea I ever heard...." Perito said on the stand. "It's a thicket of potential conflict."

Perito said Maureen McDonnell lacked qualifications, and Williams delivered the bad news to her. Prosecutors asked what Williams said about her reaction.

"He said she was really pissed," Perito responded.

Perito said the quest to get a state medical school to apply for tobacco commission funding for studies -- step one in the long-range plan to get Anatabloc approved as a drug -- was stymied when University of Virginia officials participating in a conference call with company representatives seemed unprepared and disinterested.

He said Williams was "furious" that the McDonnells' support did not pave any inroads.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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