(AP) The key witness in the corruption trial of Virginia’s former governor and his wife said his association with the couple was fraught with bad decisions — but an affair with the first lady was not one of them.
Jonnie Williams testified Thursday that he did not have a romantic relationship with former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s wife, Maureen. A defense attorney had said earlier this week that Maureen McDonnell, her marriage with her frequently absent husband on the rocks, had developed a crush on Williams and that the former Star Scientific Inc. CEO had deceived her into believing he cared for her.
The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count federal indictment with taking more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams in exchange for their help promoting his company’s products, primarily the dietary supplement Anatabloc. If convicted, they could face decades in prison.
Williams, who is testifying under immunity, was expected to be back on the stand for cross-examination by defense lawyers Friday.
Toward the end of his testimony for the government, prosecutor Michael Dry asked Williams why he wanted immunity. Williams said that without such an agreement, telling the truth would expose him to “possible criminal charges.”
Williams detailed a pattern of requests for gifts by Maureen McDonnell and a $20,000 loan former Gov. Bob McDonnell asked for, along with several events to promote Anatabloc the couple attended — including the product’s official launch at the governor’s mansion. Williams said he handed out eight $25,000 checks to medical researchers at that event “to prime the pump” for what he hoped would be state-sponsored clinical trials of Anatabloc.
He also talked about his discussions with the governor about transferring some Star Scientific stock to McDonnell so he could borrow against it. Williams said he wanted to keep the deal secret because he knew it was wrong, and McDonnell went along.
“It could be violating laws. I don’t know that. It could be,” he said.
He said he ultimately concluded he could not make the transfer without reporting it to federal regulators, so he just made a $50,000 loan instead.
Among the gifts from Williams was a Rolex watch he said Maureen requested and then gave to her husband for Christmas in 2012.
“It was a bad decision on my part to buy that watch when she asked for it,” Williams said. “I shouldn’t have had to buy things like that to get the help I needed.”
The watch was passed to the jury, where each juror briefly inspected it as a silent courtroom watched.
Maureen McDonnell also admired Williams’ Ferrari and asked if anything like that would be available at his lake house, where the McDonnell family was preparing to spend a short vacation. Williams said no.
“She said, ‘It would be nice. We never get to do things like this,’” Williams testified.
He said he had the car delivered. The jury was shown photos of Bob McDonnell driving the sports car.
While Williams was generous with some gifts, he said he rebuffed other requests by Maureen McDonnell because he thought they were too visible. He said one of the McDonnells’ daughters called him at her mother’s direction, saying Williams should buy the daughter a car. He also said Maureen McDonnell asked Williams to sell his luxury SUV to her at a discount so she could give it to one of her sons.
Williams said Maureen also asked Williams to purchase money-losing Virginia Beach rental properties the McDonnells owned — another request he rejected.
On Wednesday, however, he testified about taking the first lady on a shopping trip to New York City and spending $20,000 on designer apparel and accessories.
The prosecutor asked Williams if he lavished the first couple with gifts and loans because they were friends.
“The McDonnells are not my personal friends,” Williams said. “I thought it was good for my company.”
After investigators interviewed both Maureen McDonnell and Williams, Maureen returned several of the items Williams had bought her on that shopping spree. With the box of clothes, Maureen included a note indicating she and Williams had previously discussed giving the clothes to Williams’ daughter or donating them to charity.
Williams said he had a “sinking feeling” as he read the note and re-read it several times.
“This letter was a fabrication,” Williams said. “I felt sorry for her.”
Williams’ next move was to call his lawyer, former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who sent someone to pick up the clothes.
– ALAN SUDERMAN, LARRY O’DELL, Associated Press