RICHMOND (AP) — Prosecutors urged jurors on Friday to focus on two questions at the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen: Why did a businessman give the couple more than $165,000 in gifts and loans, and why did the McDonnells accept?
The answer, prosecutor David Harbach said in his closing argument, was a “corrupt understanding.” The McDonnells needed money because they were badly in debt, and he said they were willing to undertake official acts to help former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams promote his tobacco-based supplement, Anatabloc.
“That is bribery. That is corruption … the real thing,” Harbach said.
The McDonnells are charged in federal court in a 14-count indictment and could face decades in prison if convicted. They are being tried together, but have their own attorneys, who will give their closing arguments later Friday.
The five-week, soap opera-like trial aired the McDonnells’ dirty laundry as family members and those in the former first couple’s inner circle testified about their fights, crumbling marriage and financial troubles.
McDonnell, once considered a possible running mate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, calmly and confidently testified in his own defense, saying the couple did nothing illegal and extended courtesies to Williams like any other elected official would.
Harbach challenged the former governor’s credibility, questioning McDonnell’s assertion that he knew nothing about the first gifts Williams showered on the couple: an April 2011 shopping spree in New York City in which he spent nearly $20,000 on designer dresses and accessories for Maureen McDonnell to wear at her daughter’s wedding.
McDonnell denied knowing Williams had paid for such expensive dresses. The former governor wasn’t on the shopping spree, but did sit next to Williams later that day at an event.
“Folks, how do you miss that?” Harbach said to the jury. “You decide who to believe.”
Williams, the prosecution’s star witness, testified under immunity that he spent lavishly on the McDonnells only to secure their support as he sought credibility for Anatabloc and state-backed research on its effectiveness.
One of the gifts was a $6,500 Rolex watch that Williams said the first lady asked him to buy. She gave it to her husband for Christmas.
“I shouldn’t have had to buy things like that to get the help I needed,” Williams testified.
He also spent $15,000 on catering for a McDonnell daughter’s wedding and about $3,200 on golf outings for Bob McDonnell and his sons. Williams treated the McDonnells to a family vacation that included use of his Ferrari and issued three loans: $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell, which she used to pay credit cards bills and buy Star Scientific stock, and two checks totaling $70,000 to MoBo Realty, the money-losing Virginia Beach vacation rental house owned by Bob McDonnell and his sister.
McDonnell acknowledged using bad judgment but denied any criminal wrongdoing.
Prosecutors argued, however, that a product launch event at the governor’s mansion was outside the norm. They also cited several instances of Maureen McDonnell, and to a lesser degree her husband, promoting Anatabloc at various events. Bob McDonnell’s arrangement of a meeting between Williams and the state’s top health official also was one of the “official acts” prosecutors say benefited Williams.
Maureen McDonnell, whose reputation took a beating from a parade of witnesses who talked about her frequent angry outbursts, anxiety and depression, did not testify. One former employee acknowledged telling investigators her old boss was “a nutbag.”
Bob McDonnell also testified about his marital problems, saying he got in the habit of working late to avoid his wife’s rage and that the two were living apart during the trial.