A Virginia jury found former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen guilty of corruption, fraud and conspiracy on Thursday, capping a dramatic political fall for a man once considered a future presidential candidate.
McDonnell, a Republican, was found guilty on 11 of the 13 counts he faced, and Maureen on nine counts. The two were accused of conspiring to accept more than $177,000 in cash, loans and gifts—including a Rolex and designer clothes and handbags—from a local businessman in exchange for political favors. The two waged an unusual bad-marriage defense, arguing they were so estranged they couldn’t have conspired together.
Former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, the prosecution’s star witness, spent 15 hours on the stand detailing how he felt his relationship with the McDonnells was a business one and that he expected some kind of quid pro quo for his generosity. The defense argued that the couple, who did hold parties for and take photos with William’s products, did help Williams within the bounds of ethics rules and that Williams’ financial aid was considered more support from a friend, especially for Maureen McDonnell. Maureen, they argued, developed an “emotional relationship” with Williams as she struggled with the stress of being First Lady of Virginia. Both sides said that neither engaged in a sexual relationship.
McDonnell could have shielded his wife from the charges against her and pled to one felony count, but the former trial attorney wanted to avoid jail so badly he took the riskier option of fighting the 14-count corruption charges in court. McDonnell spent days detailing the collapse of his marriage, telling the court he struggled with loneliness and his wife’s rages, taking solace in her ever-closer relationship with Williams, which seemed to calm her. The former governor testified that his “soul mate” was so haranguing that the governor’s mansion staff unanimously signed a petition against her, and that he felt compelled to work late every day. “I want to be in love, not just watch movies about it,” McDonnell wrote his wife an e-mail that went unanswered.
Maureen McDonnell did not take the stand. The couple, both 60, remains married, though they are not living together. Bob McDonnell had been viewed as a possible running mate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and perhaps even a future presidential candidate himself.
Virginia has some of the most lax ethics laws of any state in the country. Government officials can take gifts as long as they are disclosed. Even in the wake of the case, the Virginia State Legislature has not passed any measures to tighten those ethics rules.
The McDonnells are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 6. They could face up to 30 years in prison.
McDonnell’s Democratic successor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said he was “deeply saddened by the events of the trial that ended in today’s verdict, and the impact it has had on our Commonwealth’s reputation for honesty and clean government.”