Maureen McDonnell sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison
Virginia’s version of a Greek tragedy lurched through one of its final scenes Friday, as former first lady Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for her conviction in a scandal that also ensnared her husband, former Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The McDonnells were convicted on corruption charges in September after accepting loans and gifts worth at least $177,000 from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams Sr.
The former governor was convicted on 11 corruption counts and was sentenced in January to two years in prison. He is free on bond while appealing his conviction to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In sentencing the 60-year-old Mrs. McDonnell, who was convicted on eight corruption counts and also is free on bond pending appeal, U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer said the former first lady had been “bedazzled by material possessions.”
What emerged from the trial, character witness testimony and letters sent to him on the former first lady’s behalf, Spencer said, was a story of “a good Maureen and the ‘other Maureen,’” and it was the other Maureen who held a high perch in the governor’s mansion and acted badly.”
During the McDonnells’ joint trial, Mrs. McDonnell didn’t testify. But she was depicted as the main link between Williams and the first family.
She acknowledged as much in apologizing to the court for her mistakes, just before sentencing.
“I was the one who let the serpent into the mansion,” Mrs. McDonnell said, referring to Williams.
“The venom from the serpent poisoned my marriage, my family and the commonwealth I love. I would do anything to turn back the clock and live those two years with the knowledge I have now.”
In exchange for immunity from prosecution, Williams testified during the McDonnells’ trial that he showered the first family with gifts and loans to get their help in promoting Anatabloc, a dietary supplement that claimed to reduce inflammation.
Defense attorneys contend Williams received nothing in return that would not be provided to any Virginia business.
Williams resigned as CEO of his company at the end of 2013. Star Scientific, now called Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals, has moved its headquarters to Florida.
Spencer said the trial, and the involvement of the governor and his wife, was “puzzling, sad and tragic, and sometimes bizarre.”
The “bizarre” aspect of it, Spencer suggested, was the manner in which the former governor’s attorneys blamed Maureen McDonnell for his legal problems and then seemed to discard her as part of a broken-marriage defense.
The judge characterized the defense posture as morphing from “let’s throw mama under to the bus” to “let’s throw mama off the train.”
Neither of the McDonnells looked at each other during their six-week trial, and they made special effort to enter the court separately.
None of that iciness was evident in a packed courtroom on Friday during the three-hour hearing before sentencing.
One of the biggest surprises of all occurred when the former governor kissed his wife in a swooping Hollywood-style gesture — although the kiss landed on her right check — just after she entered the courtroom.
Courtroom observers were stunned, trying to understand what the gesture might mean. The McDonnells have been living apart.
Whatever her transgressions, perhaps no political spouse — certainly none in Virginia’s recent memory — has been vilified as much as Maureen McDonnell in the news media and in courtroom proceedings.
Politico, for example, called her, “Lady Macbeth with an AmEx card.”
Prosecutors suggested that the former governor’s wife needed attention, and her fondness for expensive shoes and dresses helped land her husband in court.
Williams took Mrs. McDonnell on a well-documented 2011 shopping spree in New York that included spending $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, $5,685 at Louis Vuitton and $2,600 at Bergdorf Goodman.
William Burck, one of Maureen’s McDonnell’s attorneys, shocked the courtroom during the trial by saying his client had a “crush” on Williams.
Their relationship, Burck said, would be one that most people would regard as “inappropriate.” He mentioned numerous private meetings and hundreds of text messages and phone calls between them.
The withering criticism of Mrs. McDonnell continued on the witness stand where epithets such as “nutbag” and “unstable” were heaped on her by former staff members.
In a story published during the trial, Slate magazine columnist Dahlia Lithwick thought all the piling-on was too much.
She said it was clear that Bob McDonnell profited as much from the couple’s relationship with Williams as his wife did.
Among Lithwick’s conclusions was this one, with tongue-in-cheek:
“There are a lot of reasons Mrs. McDonnell appears to be the prime mover in Graftgate. For one, she clearly fell prey to the well-documented double standard that first ladies need to wear designer gowns, while male public officials can squeak by on a fabulous tie.”