Judge lets attorney general’s office withdraw from prosecuting former Executive Mansion chef

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A Richmond judge has allowed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to recuse his office from prosecuting a former Executive Mansion chef, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Circuit Court Judge Margaret P. Spencer, however, delayed any decision on a defense motion to dismiss four embezzlement charges against chef Todd Schneider until a new prosecutor has had a chance to review the case, the newspaper reported.

Spencer is appointing Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory D. Underwood to handle the case. Cuccinelli had asked the judge to appoint Paul Ebert, a prosecutor in Prince William County.

The case against Schneider has drawn national attention because of its entanglement with gifts from a Virginia CEO to Gov. Bob McDonnell and Cuccinelli, who is running unopposed for the Republican nomination for governor.

Schneider catered a reception for the 2011 wedding of McDonnell’s daughter. A March 30 report in the Washington Post revealed that Jonnie Williams, the CEO of Glen Allen-based Star Scientific Inc., had paid $15,000 for the reception. McDonnell has described the payment as a wedding gift to his daughter, which did not require reporting on disclosure forms.

McDonnell’s political action committee and gubernatorial campaign have received more than $100,000 in publicly reported political contributions from Williams.

The Washington Post has reported that the FBI has begun asking questions about the relationship between McDonnell and Williams as part of an existing investigation of Star Scientific’s securities transactions. The governor has said his administration have not given Williams or Star Scientific any special treatment.

Meanwhile, Cuccinelli recused his office in defending the state against a lawsuit filed in 2011 by Star Scientific over a tax assessment. The attorney general’s action came after The Post reported that he had failed to disclose until late last year that he owned Star Scientific stock worth more than $10,000 at the time the suit was filed.

Cuccinelli has since reported receiving $5,000 in gifts from Williams that he had previously overlooked.

The attorney general asked the court to recuse his office in the Schneider case because state employees that it represents could be called as defense witnesses.

In his motion to dismiss the case, Schneider has alleged that his prosecution was politically motivated. He is accused of taking state property worth more than $200. In court filings, the chef said he was instructed to take state-purchased food as compensation for personal services.

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