Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife have been formally charged in the gifts scandal that rocked his final months in office, the Washington Post first reported Tuesday.
McDonnell and his wife Maureen are accused of receiving gifts in the form of lodging, clothing and more. The two were charged with a total of 14 felony counts that included wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obtaining property under color of their official office, and conspiracy.
"My fellow Virginians, earlier today federal prosecutors notified my attorneys that they have filed criminal charges against me and my wife Maureen, alleging that we violated federal law by accepting gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific," McDonnell said Tuesday in a statement obtained by Patch.
"I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility. However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship. I never promised – and Mr. Williams and his company never received – any government benefit of any kind from me or my Administration. We did not violate the law, and I will use every available resource and advocate I have for as long as it takes to fight these false allegations, and to prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government."
Tuesday night, McDonnell issued a live statement in Richmond saying that federal officials, in their "zeal" to find charges to file against him and his wife, "have decided to stretch the law to its breaking point." He vowed to fight "these false accusations with strength and firm resolve."
The indictment, filed by prosecutors out of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, details luxury gifts obtained by the McDonnells — gifts that included cash, a Rolex watch, Oscar de la Renta clothes, and access to an exclusive golf course, prosecutors said.
Virginia-based Star Scientific had been finding ways to use certain properties of the tobacco plant as a dietary supplement, one of them a drug called Anatabloc.
The indictment details the genesis of the relationship between Star Scientific and the McDonnells:
“The defendants participated in a scheme to use Robert McDonnell’s official position as the Governor of Virginia to enrich the defendants and their family members by soliciting and obtaining payments, loans, gifts, and other things of value from JW and Star Scientific in exchange for Robert McDonnell … performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arose, to legitimize, promote, and obtain research studies for Star Scientific's products, including Anatabloc.”
Authorities said that the McDonnells first met Williams in 2009, when Bob McDonnell started using a jet plane owned by Williams during his campaign.
In a meeting with Williams, Maureen McDonnell asked for help in finding a dress for the governor’s inauguration, the indictment states. Williams agreed to buy her a dress by Oscar de la Renta.
When a senior member of the then governor-elect's staff expressed concern about accepting the gift, Maureen McDonnell sent the following email, according to the indictment:
“I need to talk to you about Inaugural clothing budget. I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I'm charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural is killing us!! I need answers and I need help, and I need to get this done.”
And so, the ongoing exchange of gifts began, according to prosecutors.
The indictment continues: “On or about August 1, 2011, Maureen McDonnell also met privately with J. During the meeting, Maureen McDonnell noticed JW's watch and asked what brand it was. JW informed her that it was a Rolex. She informed JW that she would like to get one for Robert McDonnell because he would like a Rolex … JW subsequently bought a Rolex for Robert McDonnell. When JW contacted Maureen McDonnell to ask her what she wanted engraved on the watch, Maureen McDonnell instructed JW to have "71st Governor of Virginia" engraved on the back of the Rolex.”
Authorities also detailed several golf trips to the exclusive Kinloch Golf Club where Williams footed the bill. In one August 2011 outing, the governor and his sons played golf and charged $618 to Willliams' member account, including about $300 in greens fees, $100 in caddie fees, and $214 at the gift shop, according to the indictment. In subsequent trips to the club, Bob McDonnell also charged $270 worth of food and drink to Williams’ account.
In January 2013, Maureen McDonnell requested round-trip airline tickets for two of her daughters to travel to a bachelorette party. She had also gone on a shopping trip to New York where she spent $10,000 at Oscar de la Renta, about $5,685 at Louis Vuitton, and about $2,000 at Bergdorf Goodman — all paid for by Williams, the indictment states.
Maureen McDonnell also asked for a $50,000 loan and $15,000 to help pay for a wedding. Trips to a multi-million dollar lake house and use of a Ferrari were among other perks the McDonnells received, according to the indictment.
Federal investigators, too, have accused the McDonnells of promoting Star Scientific’s products.
Maureen McDonnell hosted an event promoting Anatabloc in 2011 at the Governor’s Mansion, the indictment states.
Further: “On or about March 21, 2012, Robert McDonnell met with the Virginia Secretary of Administration to discuss the Virginia state employee health plan and ways to reduce healthcare costs in Virginia. During the meeting, Robert McDonnell pulled some Anatabloc out of his pocket and told the Secretary of Administration and one of her staff members that Anatabloc had beneficial health effects, that he personally took Anatabloc, and that it was working well for him.”
The indictment accuses Maureen McDonnell of lying during a February 2013 interview about the $50,000 loan.
In March 2013, Maureen McDonnell sent Williams a box that included some of the clothes that he had bought for the first lady in 2011, it states.
The box also contained a note that read, “I'm so happy we've been able to share so many significant milestones in our lives with you both! I truly hope your daughter will now be able to enjoy these lovely outfits and show them off on many grand occasions.”
In his statement Tuesday night, McDonnell reiterated that he felt he had been wrongfully accused and that Williams had never received any government benefit for the gifts.
"The federal government's case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory — and that is, that facilitating an introduction or a meeting, appearing at a reception, or expressing support for a Virginia business is a serious federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave an official a gift," McDonnell said. "The United States Supreme Court has already rejected this radical idea. And for good reason. Because if it were applied as the law of the line, then nearly every elected official, from President Obama on down, would have to be charged for providing tangible benefits to donors."
While the former governor and his wife were not formally charged until Tuesday, the scandal has made waves across Virginia for months.
On his first day in office, Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that sets a $100 limit on gifts he can accept.
Proposed legislation in Richmond would also increase transparency by requiring state and local elected officials to regularly disclose gifts in a public, searchable online database.
"I am obviously troubled by the charges that federal prosecutors have made against Governor McDonnell and his wife Maureen, and the message that this period in our history sends about how government in this Commonwealth is run," McAuliffe said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "As this case progresses, it is my sincerest hope that justice will be served and that Virginians get the answers to which they are entitled."