By Gary Robertson
(Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge reduced former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell's potential prison sentence for corruption to 6-1/2 to 8 years, handing a win to defense lawyers ahead of sentencing on Tuesday.
McDonnell, the first Virginia governor to be convicted of taking a bribe, faces sentencing in U.S. District Court for accepting sweetheart loans and lavish gifts from a businessman seeking to promote a dietary supplement.
Prosecutors are seeking 10 to 12 years in prison for McDonnell, who was convicted in September along with his estranged wife, Maureen, in a trial that laid bare rifts in their marriage.
Attorneys for the former Republican governor want him to serve 6,000 hours of community service rather than go to prison.
During a morning hearing that featured eight character witnesses, U.S. District Judge James Spencer said McDonnell merited 78 to 97 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
As part of his decision, Spencer found that McDonnell, 60, did not obstruct justice during trial testimony. He said much of his testimony was a "subjective view."
A jury found McDonnell guilty of 11 charges of public corruption. He and his wife were charged with receiving $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.
Defense lawyers contend that McDonnell should be sentenced to community service because his political career is dead, he will be deeply in debt and his marriage has fallen apart.
Sixty percent of Virginia adults believe that McDonnell should go to prison, according to a poll in October by the University of Mary Washington's Center for Leadership and Media Studies.
Trial prosecutors contended McDonnell and his wife conspired to use the governor's office to boost Williams' company, Star Scientific Inc, and Anatabloc.
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.
Maureen McDonnell, 60, was convicted of nine counts, but Spencer dismissed the obstruction of justice charge last month.
The former first lady is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 20. Attorneys for the couple have said they will appeal the convictions.