Ex-Va. gov's broken marriage is surprise to star witness

RICHMOND, Va. — Marriage problems that are central to the defense of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, in their federal corruption trial here were news to the government's star witness, he said Monday.

The wealthy businessman that Maureen McDonnell supposedly had a crush on said he never had an affair with her, according to Monday's testimony of Jonnie Williams in U.S. District Court here.

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"I've never had physical contact with Maureen McDonnell period," said Williams, 59, the former chief executive of Virginia-based Star Scientific who is married. "Never heard about her marriage problems either."

Williams won't be prosecuted for his role in more than $165,000 in gifts and loans to the McDonnells in exchange for what Williams was hoping would be Bob McDonnell's endorsement for and state-sponsored research on one of his company's dietary supplements, Anatabloc.

"If I don't tell the truth about any aspect of this case, (immunity) will be taken off the table," Williams said when Bob McDonnell's lawyer, Henry "Hank" Asbill, asked him about his deal with prosecutors. Williams has been given immunity in this case and another involving a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation at the company from which he resigned in December.

The McDonnells could face decades in prison if they are convicted.

Williams told Prosecutor Michael Dry that he would have stopped his gifts if Bob McDonnell had told him to. Williams' fourth day of testimony wrapped up at midday Monday, and he left the courthouse without commenting.

Although investigation into the McDonnells' dealings with Williams began two years ago, a 14-count indictment did not come down until 10 days after Bob McDonnell completed his four-year gubernatorial term in January. In Virginia, governors can serve only one successive four-year term.

MORE: Ex. VA gov. corruption trial takes a racy turn

Until their trial began a week ago, the McDonnells, married 38 years, had presented a united front to the world. But since the start of jury selection, the couple have arrived at and left the courthouse separately. They sit separately in the courtroom surrounded by their lawyers.

Their lawyers maintain that the couple could not have conspired to use the governor's position to enrich themselves because they were barely speaking to one another.

Both Bob McDonnell's and Maureen McDonnell's defense teams, who called the McDonnells' marriage "broken" in their opening statements, are trying to raise doubts about Williams' credibility on everything from what they say are the nine versions of his story that he told prosecutors to his initial characterization of his relationship with the McDonnells as strictly business.

That's why the defense has highlighted more than 1,200 calls and text messages between Maureen McDonnell and Williams from April 2011 to February 2013.

Dry said Williams sent and received 109,000 calls and texts in general during that same time frame.

"You don't want to tell me you had any personal feelings towards my client, do you?" Asbill said Friday, drawing an objection from prosecutors.

The next witness for the prosecution, Phil Cox, mentioned that Maureen McDonnell would light up when Williams, not her husband, would walk into a room. Cox, Bob McDonnell's former campaign manager, is now executive director of the Republican Governors Association; Bob McDonnell was its chairman from August 2011 until the end of 2012.

Cox said on a trip after McDonnell endorsed president candidate Mitt Romney, Jonnie Williams and Maureen wanted to meet Romney to pitch Anatabloc. Phil Cox recalled being "horrified" watching Maureen McDonnell pitching Antabloc to Ann Romney on a campaign bus. He called the encounter a "train wreck."

During direct examination, Cox mentioned thinking Williams was a "snake oil salesman" just trying to sell his product, who said it could cure everything.

On Monday, Asbill repeatedly asked Williams whether the then-governor had done anything for him. Then Asbill pointed out that Williams sent the then-governor a text after Bob McDonnell made a personal call to Williams' father on the older man's birthday.

"You are a wonderful man I am proud to know. It's been a highlight in my life," Williams texted to Bob McDonnell. "You've made an old man very happy."

Williams said he thought his spending on the McDonnells made that possible.

"This cost me, in my mind, hundreds of thousands of dollars even to be able to do that," he said.

Williams said that he didn't have specific dates on what Bob McDonnell did for him after Williams loaned $50,000 to help the couple through financial difficulties involving two Virginia Beach, Va., vacation homes that the governor owned with his sister.

The beachfront and water-view properties had been bought for about $2 million during the height of the real-estate run-up and rental income was not covering their mortgages, taxes and insurance. Refinancing was difficult because the homes had depreciated, one by as much as a third of its purchase price.

Contributing: Paulina Firozi, USA TODAY; Peggy Fox, WUSA-TV, Washington


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