RICHMOND — A federal jury Thursday found former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption — sending a message that they believed the couple sold the office once occupied by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to a free spending Richmond businessman for golf outings, lavish vacations and $120,000 in sweetheart loans.
After three days of deliberations, the seven men and five women who heard weeks of gripping testimony about the McDonnells’ alleged misdeeds acquitted the couple of several charges pending against them — but nevertheless found that they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in a nefarious exchange for his largesse.
The verdict means that Robert McDonnell, who was already the first governor in Virginia history to be charged with a crime, now holds an even more unwanted distinction: the first ever to be convicted of one. He and his wife face decades in federal prison, though their actual sentence could fall well short of that. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer set a sentencing hearing for Jan. 6, 2015.
The moment the first guilty verdict was read, Bob McDonnell closed his eyes tightly, shaking in his seat as he wept.
Maureen McDonnell seemed to cry, too, though with her back to the courtroom, her tears were less obvious. At the eighth guilty count, Bob McDonnell buried his face in his hands. By the end, he was slumped in his chair, still crying.
The former governor was convicted of 11 corruption-related counts pending against him, though acquitted of lying on loan documents. The former first lady was convicted of eight corruption-related charges, along with obstruction of justice. Maureen McDonnell was acquitted of lying on a loan document.
The jury’s verdict brings to a close a trial that seemed to grip the nation since it began in July with the shocking revelation by defense attorneys that the McDonnells’ marriage was shattered, and that would be a core element of their attempt to beat the charges. The proceedings that followed over the next five weeks at times resembled a soap opera, as the McDonnells endured a humiliating dissection of their relationship amid unflattering allegations about the lavish lifestyle supplied by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
The McDonnells, who have beenliving apart since the trial begin, left in separate vehicles after the verdicts were read. Maureen McDonnell didn’t speak, but her husband thanked the huge crush of media on the sidewalk for “the way you’ve handled this.” Just before ducking into his car he said, “All I can say is my trust belongs in the Lord.”
Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill, saying he “didn’t expect” this outcome, assured reporters the McDonnells would appeal.
“I’m obviously very disappointed,” Asbill said.
Jurors heard from 67 witnesses, including Williams and the former governor himself, who took the stand in his own defense for nearly 24 hours over several days. They saw memorable photos of McDonnell flashing a Rolex watch and riding in a Ferrari, and they heard sometimes tearful testimony from the governor’s own children and former staffers. They were shown mortgage applications, phone records, more charts than they probably care to remember — all designed to convince them that the governor and his wife conspired to take bribes from Williams, or that they did not.
The verdict, like the trial, has shaken Virginia’s political community.
“I am deeply saddened by the events of the trial that ended in today’s verdict, and the impact it has had on our Commonwealth’s reputation for honesty and clean government,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said in a statement. “Dorothy and I will continue to pray for the McDonnell family and for everyone who was affected by this trial.”
The case had more nuanced, legal questions, too: namely, did the governor and his wife perform or promise to perform so-called “official acts” for Williams in exchange for $177,000 in gifts and loans? Prosecutors argued they did. Those acts, they said, came in the form of meetings that McDonnell arranged for Williams with state officials, a luncheon Williams was allowed to throw at the governor’s mansion to help launch a product he was trying to sell, and a guest list Williams was allowed to shape at another mansion reception meant for health-care leaders.
Defense attorneys argued otherwise, saying there was no evidence the governor even knew what Williams wanted. And what he did want — state funded studies of his product, Anatabloc — he never got, defense attorneys stressed.
Prosecutors put on a compelling case, showing jurors several instances in which gifts and loans were provided in close proximity to the McDonnells’ efforts to assist Williams and his company. But defense attorneys noted, accurately, that even Williams himself did not describe an explicit, corrupt bargain he had with the governor. And they noted that Williams was testifying with generous immunity agreements, which they said motivated him to lie about his relationship with the McDonnells.
The investigation into the couple’s relationship with Williams consumed much of Bob McDonnell’s last year in office. It halted what had been steady rise through the ranks of Republican politics for the former attorney general that had once seemed likely to culminate in a run for president in 2016.
The former first couple were indicted in January, 10 days after McDonnell concluded his four-year term in office.