Va. governor apologizes, repays loans to donor

AP News
Posted: Jul 24, 2013 12:30 AM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gov. Bob McDonnell said Tuesday he has repaid a major political donor more than $120,000 in loans to the governor's wife and a business McDonnell owns with his sister.

McDonnell's relationship and thousands of dollars in gifts he and his family received from the donor, Jonnie Williams, are at the center of state and federal investigations. No charges have been filed and the Republican governor has said he did nothing illegal.

With less than six months remaining on his term, the governor issued an extraordinary apology for his ties to Williams, the chief executive of troubled nutritional supplements maker Star Scientific Inc.

"I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens. I want you to know that I broke no laws and that I am committed to regaining your sacred trust and confidence. I hope today's action is another step toward that end," the governor said in the statement released through his private communications consultant, Rich Galen.

McDonnell said the repayments, totaling $124,115, include principal and interest and settle both debts.

The statement marked the governor's first substantial public reckoning over the gifts he and his family have received since he took office in January 2010. The scandal has brought his job approval ratings to the lowest point of his term.

The governor had no public events Tuesday and was not available to elaborate on the statement, said his chief spokesman, J. Tucker Martin.

McDonnell has assembled a team of private attorneys and consultants to represent him in the ongoing probe. The team is headed by Emmet Flood, who helped former President Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, and former Vice President Dick Cheney when he was sued by ex-CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown in a newspaper column.

A private legal defense fund has been established to help McDonnell cover his legal bills.

Galen's release said the repayments were $52,278 for a personal loan Williams made to first lady Maureen McDonnell in 2011 and $71,837 for two loans to MoBo Real Estate Partners, a small real estate business McDonnell and a sister own.

Among Williams' gifts to the first family was a $15,000 check to McDonnell's daughter Cailin to help her defray catering costs for her 2011 wedding reception at the Executive Mansion. McDonnell did not disclose the gifts on his required annual statements of economic interest, citing a Virginia's public ethics law that exempts reporting of gifts to officeholders' family members or gifts to officeholders themselves if they're from personal friends, a distinction the governor affords to Williams.

McDonnell also did not note the business loans or the personal loan to his wife on his statements of economic interest.

McDonnell is limited to one term, but the scandal looms large in this year's campaign to elect his successor.

One of the candidates in that race, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, accepted more than $18,000 in personal gifts from Williams and once held more than $10,000 in Star Scientific stock while in statewide office — shares he has since sold. Some of the gifts went unreported for years on his annual statements of economic interest, including a $3,000 summer family retreat and a $1,500 family Thanksgiving dinner at Williams' luxury waterside lodge on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountain foothills.

Cuccinelli amended four years' worth of reports in April to include the gifts, and Richmond's commonwealth's attorney, Democrat Mike Herring, last week said he found no evidence that Cuccinelli violated the state ethics law.

Star Scientific, maker of Anatabloc, an anti-inflammatory supplement not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is the subject of a federal securities investigation and several shareholders' lawsuits.