Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family sobbed today as a federal jury in Richmond convicted him and his wife, Maureen, of systematic corruption and fraud.
The seven-man, five-woman panel deliberated for more than 18 hours over three days after a five-week trial that delved deep into the couple’s dirty laundry and failing marriage. Out of the federal indictment’s 14 counts, the jury found Bob McDonnell guilty on 11 counts and Maureen McDonnell on nine.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 6, when the couple could face decades in prison for accepting bribes from wealthy former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his products.
Before the scandal broke last year, many saw McDonnell as a possible Republican presidential candidate because of his mostly conservative record on social and political issues, from abortion to the role of government. But Thursday’s verdict ended what many expected to be a promising political career.
The trial centered on $165,000 in gifts the couple admitted receiving from Williams—from shopping sprees and trips, golf outings and a wedding reception, to $120,000 in loans. For their part, the McDonnells opened the governor’s mansion for what Star billed as an official launch party for Anatabloc, the company’s tobacco-derived, anti-inflammatory supplement. Maureen McDonnell touted the product at various conferences, and Bob McDonnell arranged meetings for Williams with administration officials.
Williams, the state’s star witness, testified he only showered the financial favors on the family to get help promoting his product and to boost its credibility with state researchers. The former governor denied the actions were an exchange, testifying Williams was a friend who never asked for anything. He had no qualms accepting loans and other gifts, and the favors were normal political courtesies to promote Virginia businesses, he claimed.
Prosecutors argued Bob McDonnell went beyond poor or naive judgement in his relationship with Williams to conscious colluding with his wife to accept bribes. For his testimony, Williams got immunity from both his role in this case and a separate federal securities fraud investigation.
But testimony about the McDonnells' marriage became the ugliest part of the trial. The first lady is not a public official, so any gifts she arranged for behind the governor’s back wouldn’t be illegal unless she conspired with him. The defense, along with the governor himself, trashed Maureen McDonnell’s character and her “fiery anger and hate.” He and his wife of 38 years were too distant to have conspired together, the defense argued.
In the end, the jury found Bob McDonnell’s testimony entirely untrustworthy.
Once a widely popular conservative governor, McDonnell has more than fallen from grace. The trial revealed a man who espoused fiscal responsibility but privately lived deeply in debt. His own testimony showed that while he once espoused family values, he was willing to disparage his wife’s character for his own defense. His daughter even testified the couple’s well-known, public displays of tenderness over the years were fake.
“They were the most openly affectionate first couple I’ve seen in the last 30 years, and now the trial tells us it was all an act,” Robert D. Holsworth, a retired political analyst who attended the trial, told the Associated Press.
The McDonnells are expected to appeal, but can’t before their sentencing hearing.