McDonnell Corruption Trial: Brother of Star Witness Testifies

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Northern Virginia bureau chief Julie Carey reports on Donnie Williams testimony about work he did for the McDonnell family at their private home. (Published Tuesday, Aug 12, 2014)

    Prosecutors presented Tuesday afternoon what they say is another example of gifts the former first couple of Virginia accepted from a businessman who says he sought their help promoting his product.

    Former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams’ brother Donnie testified he worked at Bob and Maureen McDonnell’s private home about a dozen times in 2012 and 2013.

    In one text message exchange between Donnie Williams and Maureen McDonnell, the first lady asked if she needed to provide a credit card for a new spa cover. Donnie Williams replied that his brother was paying for it.

    Once the investigation into Jonnie Williams’ gifts began, Maureen McDonnell asked for an invoice and paid up, Donnie Williams testified. Before the investigation became public, Maureen McDonnell did not pay him for anything, Donnie Williams said, but she offered to pay for his work several times.

    Prosecutors also questioned the Virginia State Police special agent who first questioned the Maureen McDonnell about some of the checks from Jonnie Williams.

    On Feb. 15, 2013, Maureen McDonnell was only expecting to answer questions about an embezzling case involving the former chef of the governor’s mansion. When Charles Hagan began asking about Jonnie Williams, the first lady told him her husband was longtime friends with Williams, though they’d only met a few years earlier.

    "She said the $50,000 check was a personal loan to her,” Hagan testified. “Jonnie Williams had provided the money and she had signed a loan agreement and was making periodic payments on the loan."

    The investigation later showed much of that was untrue.

    Maureen McDonnell's lawyers grilled Hagan about failing to tell her what the meeting was really about or that she was under investigation. Asked if he advised her about her right to an attorney, Hagan said, “It wasn't a custodial interview.”

    Juror Dismissed; Ex-Attorney General Returns to Stand

    Day 12 of the corruption trial began with courtroom drama and a delay in proceedings as one of the jurors was dismissed. U.S. District Judge James Spencer met twice in chambers with prosecutors and lawyers for the former governor and his wife for an extended time.

    Between the two closed meetings, a somber Bob McDonnell sat at the defense table with his back to his wife and stared at the wall for several minutes.

    He looked visibly upset when the conference was over.

    When Judge James Spencer came onto the bench, he revealed that a juror had been dismissed and would be replaced by one of the three remaining alternates. No reason was given. Another juror had been excused just as they were seated at the start of the trial.

    The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's nutritional supplements.

    When court proceedings got underway Tuesday, former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore returned to the stand and wrapped up testimony about his time working for Williams.

    Kilgore, who left office in 2005, was hired by Williams in 2011 to try to find state money to do research on the dietary supplement, Anatabloc. Kilgore testified he proposed a two pronged plan: getting grant money from the tobacco commission or convincing the governor to add a request for research funds to his state budget proposal.

    Through cross-examination, lawyers for both Bob and Maureen McDonnell were able to underscore the fact that Kilgore never succeeded in getting Williams what they'd discussed.

    Kilgore testified he never asked for a meeting with Bob McDonnell because University of Virginia researchers were not on board with doing Anatabloc research.

    Asked John Brownlee, "Nothing happened, did it?"

    "No," Kilgore said.

    Brownlee pointed out that if the governor had wanted to act, he could have easily sought research funding in the budget. Defense attorneys also showed it was Kilgore, not McDonnell, who urged Williams to try to get UVA and Virginia Commonwealth University interested in doing Anatabloc research.

    "I suggested VCU or UVA," said Kilgore.

    But prosecutor Michael Dry brought Kilgore back to a key point in his redirect, asking, "In his conversations, who was [Williams] telling you supported the product?"

    Kilgore answered, "The governor and first lady."

    It was the second partial day of testimony for Kilgore, who said Monday that Williams repeatedly told him the McDonnells supported his efforts.

    Another witness Tuesday was one of the doctors Williams was trying to get interested in doing research. VCU cardiologist Dr. George Vetrovec had agreed to meet with Williams to learn about Anatabloc.

    Vetrovec testified, "Mr. Williams said to me, 'How much time do you have?' I said, '30 minutes.' He said, 'Make it 45. The governor's wife makes really good cookies'."

    After that, Vetrovec said Williams drove him directly to the governor's mansion.

    Inside, there were no cookdies -- but there was a reception for Steven Spielberg, who was filming the movie "Lincoln" in Richmond. Vetrovec said Williams asked Maureen McDonnell to take them to the front of the line, where he met the famed Spielberg.

    But under cross examination, Vetrovec said neither of the McDonnells ever talked to him about Anatabloc.

    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 the supplement 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.