Jury to start deliberations in corruption trial of Virginia ex-governor

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 02, 2014 10:07 AM

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Jury deliberations are set to begin on Tuesday in the federal corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, who are charged with taking sweetheart loans and lavish gifts from a businessman.

The jury of seven men and five women will start deciding the fate of McDonnell and former first lady Maureen McDonnell, both 60, after instructions from U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer. Closing arguments wrapped up five weeks of testimony on Friday.

McDonnell and his wife face a 14-count indictment charging they accepted $177,000 in loans and gifts from dietary supplement entrepreneur Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for promoting his company and its main product, the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.

If convicted on all charges, they could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and hefty fines.

Prosecutors said that to win their case, they must prove that the McDonnells conspired to help Williams, and it does not matter whether their efforts bore fruit or not.

They argued that McDonnell, a Republican whose term ended in January, knowingly took loans and gifts from Williams, but was now trying to distance himself by blaming his wife.

Prosecutors contended that both McDonnells repeatedly had worked on Williams' behalf, staging a launch of Anatabloc at the governor's mansion and offering personal testimonies to high-ranking state employees about its effectiveness.

    But defense attorneys said the prosecution must show that Williams received a significant benefit from his gifts and loans.

They argued that the couple's 38-year marriage was so frayed that the McDonnells could not have conspired with Williams. The defendants have separate legal teams and the former governor has moved out of the family home and is living in a church.

Lawyers for the couple depicted Williams, the former chief executive of Star Scientific Inc, as a smooth-talking salesman who duped the former first lady. Witnesses described her as volatile, ill at ease in the governor's mansion and perhaps mentally ill.

McDonnell testified that he had only performed routine courtesies for Williams, as he would for any other businessman in his state.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Mohammad Zargham)