Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell indicted in Star Scientific controversy

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January 21, 2014

By Kristen Mathews


RICHMOND, Virginia: On January 21, 2014, immediate past Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, were indicted on 14 counts of fraud and conspiracy related to the Star Scientific controversies.[1] If convicted, the McDonnells could face time in prison and over $1 million in fines.[2]

The federal indictment described the gifts received from Williams and accused the McDonnells of using their position of power for their own gain. “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 [Williams] and Star Scientific,” the prosecutors allege. The governor's office was also allegedly “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."[1]

Bob and Maureen McDonnell were charged with

  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud
  • 3 counts of honest-services wire fraud
  • 1 count of conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right
  • 6 counts of obtaining property under color of official right
  • 1 count of making false statements to a federal credit union

Bob McDonnell was also charged with making a false statement to a financial institution, while Maureen was charged with the additional count of obstruction of an official proceeding.[3]

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell

"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," McDonnell said in a statement to the Washington Post. "However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship," he further explained.[2]

While both Bob and Maureen McDonnell refer to Williams as a close and personal friend, the prosecutors allege that the former governor did not meet Williams until November, before McDonnell won the 2009 gubernatorial election. Prior to their supposed November 2009 introduction to one another, Williams allowed McDonnell and his campaign use of his private jet. In December, the McDonnells met with Mr. Williams for a second time. It was then that the former first lady expressed her need for financial assistance in finding a dress for the January inauguration. Mr. Williams agreed to help, but McDonnell's aide advised against it. The disappointed Mrs. McDonnell did not procure this dress, although by the end of the term, she allegedly received five designer dresses and three pairs of designer shoes, among many other items listed in the indictment as property subject to forfeiture.[4]


When he assumed office in 2010 as Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell was considered a rising star in the Republican Party. Soon after, McDonnell was chosen to deliver the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union, and in 2011 he was named chairman of the National Governor’s Association. By 2012, he was considered a possible vice-presidential running mate to Mitt Romney.[5][6][7] Instead of taking off as expected, his public profile plummeted due to the series of revelations that began to emerge as the last year of his term drew to a close.[8][9]

Back in March 2013, it was reported that the FBI was investigating whether McDonnell violated any laws by allowing then CEO, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the head of Star Scientific, to pay $15,000 for food and flowers at his daughter's 2011 wedding, which was held at the governor's mansion. When asked why he did not report the spending on his finance reports, McDonnell said the donation was a gift to his daughter, and, per state law, only gifts to officeholders have to be reported.[10][11][12]

Virginia elected officials are allowed to accept personal gifts of any value as long as they disclose those that are worth $50 or more. A look at top gift recipients in the state between 2002-2012 shows McDonnell at the top with $303,550. The next on the list, former Governor Tim Kaine, reported $201,595 in gifts, meaning McDonnell accepted over $100,000 more in gifts than any other elected official during the same time period. Also worth noting is a number of the gifts provided by Williams were not included on McDonnell’s financial disclosure forms.[13]

The original investigation of McDonnell was an offshoot of an investigation of securities transactions involving Star Scientific. The company produced a dietary supplement called Anatabloc. Williams and Star Scientific had donated over $120,000 to McDonnell and his political action committee, along with other perks including allowing McDonnell to stay at Williams's lake house.[14]

Meanwhile, McDonnell and his wife promoted Anatabloc and other products made by the company. According to Todd Schneider, former chef to the governor, McDonnell "[promoted] Star Scientific products, including the introduction of Anatabloc (a food supplement) to MCV doctors at a lunch Todd Schneider cooked at the mansion on Aug. 30, 2012."[10] Additionally, McDonnell's wife Maureen spoke at a seminar for scientists and investors in Florida three days before her daughter's wedding, where she spoke in support of Anatabloc.[10]

In late June 2013, it came out that Williams purchased a $6,500 Rolex watch for McDonnell, which the governor did not disclose in his financial filings. Williams presented the gift in August 2011, just weeks after meeting with a state health official to discuss his company's products. The meeting was arranged by McDonnell's wife, who suggested Williams purchase a Rolex for her to give to her husband.[15]

Prosecutors allege that shortly thereafter in 2012, Williams gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by McDonnell and his sister. That money went from a trust owned by Williams to MoBo Real Estate Partners, formed in 2005, and was not disclosed by McDonnell as a gift or loan. Additionally, Williams gave a $50,000 check to the governor's wife in 2011.[16]

In late August, more gifts from Williams to McDonnell became public, including winning a fashion tour of New York at a charity auction for the governor's wife, paying to fly the governor and his wife to Cape Cod over Labor Day weekend in 2012, and allowing McDonnell, his sons and staff to play golf and purchase gear at exclusive Richmond area country clubs. Those close to the investigation said McDonnell was aware of these, even though the governor's lawyers maintained he was unaware of these gifts.[17]

Additional Reading

The full text of the 43 page indictment can be found here.[4]

See also

Ballotpedia News


  1. 1.0 1.1 Politico, Bob McDonnell and wife indicted in gift scandal, January 21, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 NBC Politics, Former Virginia governor, wife charged in gift scandal, January 21, 2014
  3. Times Dispatch, McDonnell, former first lady indicted on multiple counts, January 21, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 Washington Post, Robert F McDonnell Indictment, January 21, 2014
  5. The Nation, “Meet Bob McDonnell, The Right’s Fallen Rising Star,” June 11, 2012
  6., "McDonnell takes to national stage," August 15, 2011
  7. USA Today, "Romney's VP pick likely to go to safest candidate," July 14, 2012
  8. Huffington Post, "Poll: Bob McDonnell's Approval Rating Falls," July 15, 2013
  9. Politico, "Poll: More than one-third of voters want Bob McDonnell to resign," July 15, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 The Atlantic Wire, "The Governor, His Wife, Their Cook, and the FBI," April 30, 2013
  11. Washington Post, "Donor bought Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. McDonnell, people familiar with gift say," June 25, 2013
  12. Washington Post, "McDonnell’s corporation, wife allegedly benefited from $120,000 more from donor," July 9, 2013
  13. Washington Post, “ The perks of politics: A decade of gift-giving,” June 13, 2013
  14. Washington Post, "FBI looking into relationship between McDonnells, donor," April 29, 2013
  15. Washington Post, "Donor bought Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. McDonnell, people familiar with gift say," June 25, 2013
  16. Washington Post, "McDonnell’s corporation, wife allegedly benefited from $120,000 more from donor," July 9, 2013
  17. Washington Post, "Gov. McDonnell described as aware of gifts from Virginia businessman," August 31, 2013