A federal judge ruled mostly against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, Wednesday in several pretrial motions filed ahead of the corruption trial beginning July 28.
Judge James R. Spencer denied two motions made by the McDonnell’s lawyers to bar certain evidence from trial and to allow testimony from the prosecution’s expert witnesses who will reportedly reap substantial benefits from the government’s requested suspension of evidence gathering in two unrelated civil cases, the Associated Press reports.
The couple was charged Tuesday, January 21 with illegally accepting up to $165,000 in gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a wealthy Richmond-area businessman. The McDonnells allegedly asked Williams for loans and gifts of money, clothes, golf tees and equipment, trips, and private plane rides, the Washington Post reports.
In exchange, the McDonnells allegedly lent the prestige of the governor’s office to Williams’ struggling dietary supplement company, Star Scientific. Prosecutors contend that the McDonnells arranged access for Williams to top state officials in addition to allowing WIlliams to use the governor’s mansion for a launch party for a company pill the Food and Drug Administration had not approved.
The McDonnells’ defense wanted attorney Peter H. White and forensic accountant J. Allen Kosowsky to testify that Star Scientific (now renamed Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals) and Williams, a major shareholder, could benefit from a delay in the civil suits. Spencer said the jury could apply its “own collective common sense” on the impact a delayed civil suit would have.
In one opinion addressing seven issues, Judge Spencer ruled in favor of the former Republican governor and first lady just twice. In another, he ruled only two of the expert witnesses called by defense attorneys would be permitted to testify, The Washington Post reports.
In a blow to the McDonnells’ defense, Spencer ruled the couple would not be allowed to defend their failure to list loans from Williams on document seeking other loans as “inconsequential,” adding that prosecutors must prove only that the omissions were intended to influence the financial institutions, The Washington Post reports. Spencer also wrote that Maureen McDonnell’s buying and selling of stock in Williams’ company to avoid reporting requirements could be interpreted as “concealment.”
Prosecutors will also be able to present evidence of the McDonnell family taking a $23,000 getaway to Kiawah Island in South Carolina in May 2012, paid for by Henrico hotelier and U-Va. Board of Visors Vice Rector William H. Goodwin Jr. Prosecutors argued in a court filing that the vacation was just one of many examples of undisclosed gifts from people other than Williams.
In the McDonnells’ favor, Judge Spencer ruled
that an accountant would be allowed to testify that the McDonnells were
suggesting the couple sought Williams’ assistance in a time of need. Spencer
declined to put a limit on the defense’s character witnesses but wrote that it
was “highly unlikely” he would allow the McDonnells more than five. He also
ruled that prosecutors cannot ask leading questions but warned that he could
change his mind if the McDonnells prove “uncooperative.”
McDonnell, 59, is the first Virginia governor to face criminal charges. If convicted, the couple could face a maximum of 30 years in prison.
McDonnell’s lawyers contend that the former governor followed state disclosure laws, which they claim are vague and open to interpretation. Virginia is one of just 10 states that allow officeholders to take personal gifts of unlimited value, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The state requires officials to disclose any gifts worth more than $50 but does not require disclosure of gifts to immediate relatives. Combined, these provisions give Virginia one of the most lax disclosure laws in the nation.