If the prosecutors' case in United States v. Robert F. McDonnell and Maureen G. McDonnell is correct, the corrupt acts of the 71st governor of Virginia and his wife had their beginning even before Bob McDonnell took the oath of office. Virginia's new First Couple allegedly hoped to start cashing in before they officially became the First Couple.
News reports give readers the basic outline of the prosecution, but one has to read the indictment itself -- it's just 43 pages -- to grasp the full extent of the McDonnells' alleged corruption. The gist of the case is that the governor and his wife, in debt and constantly worried about money, cultivated a "friendship" with Virginia pharmaceutical entrepreneur Jonnie Williams and almost immediately began asking him for money and gifts, at the same time holding out hope that the governor would help Williams' company, Star Scientific, win clinical trials for its main product, an anti-inflammatory diet supplement that Williams believed had the potential to treat all sorts of ailments.
McDonnell, who had been the attorney general of Virginia, was elected governor on Nov. 3, 2009. His victory was a huge bright spot for a Republican Party that had taken a beating in the 2008 elections and had no power in the face of President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. He was inaugurated on Jan. 16, 2010.
During the campaign, in March 2009, according to the indictment, Attorney General McDonnell's staff approached Williams — who is referred to throughout the indictment as "JW" — about McDonnell using Williams' private jet in the campaign. "Prior to this time," the indictment says, "McDonnell and JW had never met, and they had no personal or professional relationship."
According to the indictment, the two met briefly during the campaign but were basically strangers when McDonnell was elected governor. Then, in December 2009, when McDonnell was governor-elect, Williams asked to meet with McDonnell at an event at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York. At the meeting, Maureen McDonnell allegedly asked Williams for help buying a dress for the upcoming inauguration. Williams said yes. According to the indictment, Maureen McDonnell later told one of her husband's senior staffers, identified only as "JE," that Williams "had agreed to purchase a designer dress by Oscar de la Renta … for the inauguration."
Remember — Bob McDonnell was not even governor yet, and his wife allegedly was already asking for favors. When JE, the staffer, expressed reservations about the idea, finally telling Mrs. McDonnell that it was "inappropriate and should not be done," the soon-to-be first lady backed off, but was angry at her husband's staff. Not long later, she sent JE an email, which is included in 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.
In the end, Mrs. McDonnell did not accept the dress from Williams but allegedly said she would take a "rain check."
From there it was off to the races. In October 2010, Williams let McDonnell use his plane for a political trip to California. In the spring of 2011, according to the indictment, Mrs. McDonnell decided to collect on the "rain check." From the indictment:
On or about April 11, 2011, MAUREEN MCDONNELL contacted JW and requested that he take her shopping in New York City for the designer dress by Oscar de la Renta. MAUREEN MCDONNELL explained that she and ROBERT MCDONNELL were attending a political event at the Union League Club in New York City on April 13, 2011, and that she would ensure that JW was seated next to ROBERT MCDONNELL at the event. JW agreed to pay for the shopping trip.
On or about April 13, 2011, JW accompanied MAUREEN MCDONNELL to several luxury stores in New York City, including Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vuitton, and Bergdorf Goodman. MAUREEN MCDONNELL informed JW that she needed dresses and accessories for her daughter's upcoming wedding and for her and ROBERT MCDONNELL'S upcoming anniversary party. JW paid for the entire luxury shopping trip for MAUREEN MCDONNELL and spent approximately $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, approximately $5,685 at Louis Vuitton, and approximately $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman. As promised by MAUREEN MCDONNELL, JW was seated next to ROBERT MCDONNELL at the Union League Club event later that evening.
According to the indictment, Williams used his time near the governor to tout his company's products -- something called CigRx, to help people stop smoking, and an anti-inflammatory called Anatabloc. Williams wanted a scientific seal of approval attesting to his products' effectiveness, and the idea was for McDonnell to push one of the universities in the Virginia system to do a clinical study.
The next month, according to the indictment, Maureen McDonnell had a heart-to-heart with Williams, confessing to him that that family was in deep financial trouble. They had rental properties in Virginia Beach that weren't doing well in the economic downturn and were draining their bank account, plus plenty of other expenses they couldn't cover. She asked for a $50,000 loan. According to the indictment, she "told JW that she could help Star Scientific but that she needed JW's financial assistance." At the same meeting, Mrs. McDonnell allegedly asked Williams for another $15,000 to cover expenses for her daughter's upcoming wedding.
Williams later talked directly to the governor about the couple's financial problems, and agreed to loan the money — no paperwork involved. At the same time, according to the indictment, McDonnell starting bugging Virginia state health officials to take a look at Star Scientific's products.
According to prosecutors, the McDonnells started withdrawing from the Williams piggy bank in ways large and small. In May 2011, the governor took his sons to play at an exclusive golf course called Kinloch. Williams wasn't there, but the McDonnells charged it all to him: "approximately $1,200 in greens fees, $500 in caddie fees, $410 in merchandise at the pro shop, and $270 in food and beverages," according to the indictment — a total of $2,380.
In July 2011, the McDonnell family spent a few days at Williams' lavish home at Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake. This is a brief look at what happened, again from the indictment:
MAUREEN MCDONNELL had previously called JW to ask whether JW's Ferrari would be at the house for ROBERT MCDONNELL'S use. JW arranged to have a Star Scientific employee transport the Ferrari from Richmond to his Smith Mountain Lake house so that the defendants could use the Ferrari during their vacation. In addition, JW rented a boat specifically for the defendants' use during the vacation. On or about July 31, 2011, at approximately 7:47 p.m., MAUREEN MCDONNELL sent an email to JW that contained no text but had an attached picture of ROBERT MCDONNELL driving JW's Ferrari.
A day or two later, Maureen McDonnell allegedly met with Williams and noticed Williams was wearing a Rolex watch. She said she wanted to get one for her husband — would Williams mind buying it? She also wanted it engraved, with "71st Governor of Virginia" on the back. Williams bought the watch. In the next month, August 2011, the McDonnell men had three more pricey golf outings at Kinloch, all charged to Williams.
In February 2012, according to the indictment, McDonnell needed — and received — another infusion of $50,000 from Williams to keep the rental properties afloat. In May 2012, Williams sent another $20,000.
Williams also paid for a trip to a Cape Cod resort for the McDonnells. And there was also lots of small stuff at home, according to the indictment:
From in or about November 2012 through in or about March 2013, the defendants obtained yard work and other miscellaneous home repairs at their personal residence from one of JW's brothers. Those services included the installation of a hot tub cover that JW purchased for the defendants and work to re-stain the defendants' deck at their personal residence.
In January 2013, according to the indictment, Maureen McDonnell called Williams' assistant and asked that Williams buy airline tickets for two of the McDonnells' daughters to go to a bachelorette party in Savannah, Ga. Williams bought the tickets.
What did Williams get in return for all his money? According to the indictment, McDonnell allegedly used his influence to hold events related to Williams' products, to try to jump-start clinical trials, to connect Williams with state health officials. Things went so far that at times, it seemed as if the governor of Virginia was a pitchman in a diet supplement infomercial. From the indictment:
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. ROBERT MCDONNELL asked the Secretary of Administration and her staff member to reach out to the "Anatabloc people" and meet with them to discuss Anatabloc.
There are plenty of other allegations in the indictment, most importantly Star Scientific stock transactions that prosecutors say the McDonnells tried to hide from state disclosure requirements. But the heart of the case is the McDonnells' unending requests for more money, more merchandise, more everything from Williams.
A former governor can make a lot of money. He can cash in on the influence he still has after leaving the statehouse. But if the indictment is correct, the McDonnells, in debt and wanting to drive Ferraris and wear Rolexes and play golf at swanky courses, couldn't wait, even four years, for the payoff. And that is the story of United States v. Robert F. McDonnell and Maureen G. McDonnell.
Read the full indictment below.