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Judge approves plea deal in chef case

Richmond Circuit Judge Margaret P. Spencer has accepted a plea agreement calling for restitution but no jail time for the former executive chef at the governor’s mansion.

Todd Schneider was charged with embezzling food and supplies from the governor’s mansion, but his defense – including allegations of in-kind payments and acceptance of gifts by Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family – fueled a scandal that still hangs over McDonnell.

The plea agreement cancels the trial set for next month that threatened to serve as another political distraction for both McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Schneider’s lawyer, Steven D. Benjamin of Richmond, described the plea agreement as “very favorable” for his client. Nevertheless, Cuccinelli said the plea agreement vindicates his decision to pursue the charges against Schneider.

Despite the end of the criminal case against Schneider, Cuccinelli said he decided to keep a bank of outside attorneys on the job, representing McDonnell, his staff, cabinet secretaries and others in their official capacities.

Cuccinelli said he concluded that those attorneys will remain appointed for two reasons:

“(1) Several of the issues that arose from the chef’s case are still present in an ongoing federal investigation, and the potentially divergent legal interests of this office’s clients still exist; and

(2) Outside attorneys have been already working for months with the state employees they are representing. Changing attorneys in the middle of an ongoing investigation could be detrimental to those employees,” Cuccinelli said in a statement.

The ongoing federal investigation involves allegations of improper gifts and other benefits for McDonnell and his family from a Richmond area businessman.

The Schneider plea deal calls for the former head chef to plead no contest to two misdemeanors, to pay $2,300 in restitution and to accept two six-month suspended sentences.

Of four felony charges, two were withdrawn and two were reduced to misdemeanors for purposes of the pleas.

Benjamin said there is no agreement for Schneider to provide information to prosecutors.

“That is not in any sense part of the agreement,” Benjamin said. The Schneider case is “completely over and resolved today,” he said Wednesday.

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