Convicted on public corruption charges, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has been sentenced to 2 years in prison for soliciting and accepting bribes while in office. His wife, Maureen McDonnell, has been convicted on similar charges for obtaining payments, loans, and gifts in exchange for political favors. Instead of condemning McDonnell for abusing his power, many politicians have reached out in support of his behavior.
Former Attorney General of Virginia, Bob McDonnell became Governor of Virginia on January 16, 2010. After delivering the 2010 Republican response to the State of the Union Address, he became chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2011. McDonnell was even considered a possible running mate for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.
Ten days after vacating the office of Governor of Virginia, McDonnell and his wife Maureen were indicted on federal corruption charges on January 21, 2014. Between April 2011 and March 2013, the McDonnells had accepted over $170,000 in direct payments from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams, Sr.
In April 2011, Williams bought Maureen an Oscar de la Renta gown in exchange for a promise to seat him next to her husband at a political event. Later that year, Williams agreed to give the McDonnells a $50,000 loan to cover financial difficulties emanating from their real estate investments in Virginia Beach. Williams also paid $15,000 to cater their daughter’s wedding and gave McDonnell a $6,500 Rolex watch with “71st Governor of Virginia” engraved on the back.
Williams paid for golf excursions and family vacations in exchange for McDonnell’s support and promotion in gaining state-funded research for a dietary supplement manufactured by Star Scientific called Anatabloc. On December 23, 2013, the FDA sent a warning letter to Williams for unlawfully promoting Anatabloc before proving it was safe. In response to the McDonnell scandal, Williams resigned and Star Scientific changed its name to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals.
After being granted immunity for testifying against the McDonnells, Williams admitted to using the governor to encourage Virginia university researchers to initiate studies of his company’s products and to promote those products to doctors. While receiving gifts and payments, McDonnell also contacted the Virginia secretary of health to arrange for Williams to meet with policy advisors. By routing the gifts and loans through family members and corporate entities controlled by the former governor, McDonnell attempted to conceal the bribes and avoid annual disclosure requirements.
On September 4, 2014, a federal jury convicted the McDonnells on public corruption charges. Both McDonnells were convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right. Bob McDonnell was convicted of three counts of honest-services wire fraud and six counts of obtaining property under color of official right. Maureen was convicted of two counts of honest-services wire fraud counts and four counts of obtaining property under color of official right.
“Robert McDonnell corrupted the most powerful office in Virginia and fractured the public’s trust,” stated Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. “Taking bribes in exchange for official actions is not politics as usual – it is an insidious crime that strikes at the heart of public service and will not be tolerated.”
Although prosecutors sought at least ten years in prison for McDonnell, Senior U.S. District Judge James Spencer said federal officials had misinterpreted the guidelines, arguing the range was closer to six and a half to a little more than eight years. After rejecting the 6,000 hours of community service suggested by McDonnell’s attorneys, Judge Spencer sentenced McDonnell to two years in prison.
“It breaks my heart, but I have a duty I can’t avoid,” Spencer announced at sentencing. “Mrs. McDonnell may have allowed the serpent into the mansion, [but] the governor knowingly let him into his personal and business affairs.”
Speaker William Howell of the Virginia House of Delegates testified in support of McDonnell claiming, “He’s been punished enough.”
Before the hearing, Pat Robertson sent a representative offering McDonnell a position at Robertson’s Operation Blessing. “If Bob McDonnell were buried in jail…it would be like burying something of enormous value,” Operation Blessing’s executive director William Horan said in court. Arguing for leniency, McDonnell’s attorneys produced over 400 letters from friends, family, and other politicians including Sen. Tim Kaine and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor attesting to McDonnell’s character.
McDonnell is the first Virginia governor convicted of corruption. Nationally, 12 governors have been convicted on corruption charges. Rod Blagojevich is serving 14 years for attempting to sell President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. Edwin Edwards was sentenced to ten years for extorting money from casino license applicants in Louisiana. Arch Moore received over 5 years for extorting money from a coal operator in West Virginia.
Although politicians receive massive political donations and campaign contributions, the Hobbs Act makes it illegal for public officials to accept bribes. Most of the charges filed against the McDonnells stem from the Hobbs Act.
McDonnell has been ordered to report to prison on February 9. Maureen is scheduled for sentencing on February 20.
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