Ex-Virginia Governor McDonnell guilty on 11 counts

Is receiving $177,000 in gifts and loans a crime? One Virginia jury said yes. And former Governor Bob McDonnell is going to pay the price for murky ethics laws that allowed a prosecutor to charge the once-potential GOP presidential candidate with corruption.

McDonnell was convicted on 11 of 14 counts of corruption. His wife was found guilty on 9 counts.

Let's just say that, if taking that much money in gifts and sweetheart loans isn' clearly a crime, it should be. The tale of McDonnell and his wife's relationship to a dietary supplement entreprenuer - whose products may or may not be beneficial to one's health - is a sordid one. And while McDonnell insisted throughout the trial that he was innocent, the record speaks broadly about a failed system of ethics in state government.


Prosecutors charged that McDonnell and his wife received $177,000 in loans and gifts from dietary supplement entrepreneur Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for promoting his company's main product, the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. The couple have been living separately during the trial and say they are estranged.

After the decision, McDonnell and his wife, both 60, huddled with weeping family members in the courtroom. The ashen-faced couple left the courthouse separately, with the former first lady wiping away tears. They declined to talk to reporters.

During the five-week trial, prosecutors contended McDonnell and his wife conspired to use the governor's office to promote Williams' company, Star Scientific Inc, and Anatabloc.

Prosecutors said McDonnell introduced the company to Virginia health officials and staged a launch of Anatabloc at the governor's mansion. He also suggested to state universities that they conduct studies related to the products, the prosecution said.

Prosecutors alleged "in essence, that McDonnell provided special access to Williams," said Kelly Kramer, an attorney at the Washington office of Mayer Brown.

The "conviction illustrates the danger public officials face when they accept lavish gifts from donors - even when gifts aren't tied to traditional official acts," he said, such as agreeing to sponsor legislation or award a government contract.

The gifts to the couple included a $6,500 Rolex watch, wedding and engagement presents, money for McDonnell's daughters, and golf outings and equipment.

Williams provided a $50,000 loan and a $15,000 "gift" to cover wedding expenses. He also gave a $70,000 loan to a corporation that the governor and his sister used to manage beach properties, according to the indictment.

That must have been one helluva wedding. And why not go through traditional loan venues to get the $70,000 for his private business? I'm afraid that politicians must adhere to higher standards than the rest of us when it comes to receiving gifts and favors. Even the appearance of favoritism or impropriety should be avoided.

McDonnell didn't and is now going to jail. You could probably argue that the prosecution was politically motivated. But if you do, you are going to have to defend a business and personal relationship that enriched the sitting governor of Virginia to the tune of $177,000.


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