Guilty over greed, that’s what a jury of their peers found former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen. McDonnell, the 71st governor of Virginia, now has the distinguished honor of being the first governor convicted of a felony in the state’s history.
There were tears from the accused and shock from many Richmonders, including myself when the verdicts were handed down. I thought McDonnell and his wife would elude charges of corruption. But perhaps Virginians have had enough of politicians like McDonnell abusing their power for financial gain.
“I’m the governor of Virginia. I can have it all, live beyond my means. In fact I’m owed it all because I’m a very important person.” This seems to be what Bob McDonnell thought when as governor he accepted nearly $200,000 in money and gifts from Johnnie Williams, Sr., who was then CEO of Star Scientific. But when federal prosecutors indicted McDonnell and his wife on corruption charges, suddenly McDonnell played dumb. His defense was he didn’t think he had to pay Williams back for those gifts and loans nor did he believe he should give Williams anything in return, like promoting his Anatabloc product. Yeah, right.
And his wife’s defense was their broken marriage. Maureen claimed she was infatuated with Williams and didn’t believe accepting a Rolex from him and a $20,000 New York City shopping spree was wrong. Lawyers for McDonnell too used the bad marriage defense, arguing that because of their crumbling marriage, he didn’t know about the gifts Maureen received from Williams or the Star Scientific stock she purchased.
What man throws his wife under the bus like that? There was a picture of McDonnell wearing the engraved Rolex watch his wife got from Williams so it’s hard to believe he never asked Maureen how she acquired it?
Apparently, the jurors didn’t buy this or the couple’s “he said, she said” defense of a bad marriage backed up by the charade of the two living apart during the trial. To think this indictment against the McDonnells began as a result of the firing of the executive chef for the governor’s mansion Todd Schneider over stealing food from the mansion pantry. Schneider steadfastly has claimed he didn’t steal any food but took it as part of a bartering deal approved by Maureen.
When the FBI began its investigation of Schneider, he gave the FBI evidence proving Williams wrote a $15,000 check to pay for McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding reception. This uncorked the federal investigation into McDonnell’s other money dealings with Williams and the governor’s indictment. I bet McDonnell wishes he hadn’t fired Schneider or more importantly gotten caught for taking gifts and money Williams.
A few people tweeted McDonnell wasn’t the first or last politician to act unethically. One person tweeted it was a “corrupt and angry revenge seeking U.S Attorney General” Eric Holder who brought charges against a Republican Governor. Governor McDonnell’s arrogance and greed was his enemy not Eric Holder or President Barack Obama because McDonnell never thought he would get caught.
Even when prosecutors offered him a deal with no prison time in exchange for pleading guilty to one count of felony fraud and no charges brought against his wife, McDonnell rejected it. If McDonnell had been an average Joe robbing a bank, he would have been convicted and everyone would have said justice was served. There isn’t one set of rules for politicians and another for everyone else.
McDonnell thought being a governor meant he was immune to the laws of the land but jurors reminded him he needed to be held accountable for his actions just like any other American. I wonder if the McDonnells think their lust for things (a Rolex, clothes, multiple homes) and a lifestyle they couldn’t afford was worth going to prison and becoming convicted felons.