RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were indicted Tuesday on federal corruption charges accusing the couple of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in loans, shopping sprees, money for their daughter's wedding -- and even a joyride in a Ferrari -- from the owner of a company that makes health supplements.
The 14-count indictment portrays the former governor as deeply entrenched in credit card debt even before he took office and willing to accept lavish gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, who hoped that the first couple's endorsement for his products would propel his company to fortunes.
Mr. McDonnell, once viewed as a rising GOP star, and his wife have firmly denied wrongdoing, and Bob McDonnell repaid thousands to Mr. Williams while still in office. Limited to a single term by state law, Mr. McDonnell left the executive mansion earlier this month in disgrace, his approval numbers low and his political future in tatters.
At one time, Mr. McDonnell had been considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. Mr. McDonnell delivered the 2010 Republican response to the State of the Union Address, and became the Republican Governors Association chairman in 2011.
Twelve of the counts are each punishable by as much as 20 years in prison, and two can result in as much as 30 years. Fines can range from $250,000 to $1 million.
The 43-page indictment portrays a cozy relationship between the McDonnells and Mr. Williams that began even before the governor took office, with many of their interactions initiated by Maureen McDonnell.
In 2009, just before the governor's inauguration, the state's first lady wrote to a senior staffer for her husband: "I need answers, and Bob is screaming about the thousands I'm charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this inaugural is killing us!"
Before the couple took up residence in the governor's mansion, Mr. Williams was offering the family money. He was known as a donor who let the McDonnells use his private jet on the campaign trail. In December, he was willing to pay for an Oscar de la Renta dress that the cash-strapped first lady could wear to the inauguration. Although she was the one who asked for the dress, she later refused the offer at the staffer's urging.
The indictment says Maureen McDonnell cut a deal with Mr. Williams about two years later: If he bought her dresses and accessories for her daughter's wedding and the couple's anniversary, she would make sure he had a prime seat next to her husband at a New York City political event. Mr. Williams paid her nearly $20,000 tab at stores such as Oscar de la Renta and Louis Vuitton, the indictment says. As promised, he was seated next to the governor at the event on April 13, 2011.
The indictment also details a $50,000 loan Mr. Williams made to the McDonnells in May 2011, along with $15,000 for their daughter's wedding. The money was later used to pay for catering costs for the wedding, as well as payments totaling nearly $20,000 for the family's credit cards.
Then, in June, Star Scientific began jockeying for grant money that could be used for researching potential health benefits of one of its products, Anatabloc. The grants could not be given to for-profit entities; but Star Scientific was financially strapped, so company officials began reaching out to state research universities, asking them to apply for the grants to conduct the research. The company held up two of the state's most visible figures in asking the universities to do its bidding: the governor and his wife, who supported its products.
The next month, the McDonnells enjoyed a lavish vacation at Mr. Williams' multimillion-dollar home on Smith Mountain Lake, which included free reign over Mr. Williams' personal Ferrari and a boat rented for the occasion. Mr. Williams arranged for a staffer to deliver the luxury sports car from his Richmond home to the vacation estate 160 miles away, and Maureen McDonnell snapped a photo of her husband driving the car and emailed it to Mr. Williams on July 31.
The next day, Mr. Williams was in a meeting with the McDonnells and a senior adviser in the state health department, pitching Star Scientific products and suggesting that government employees could serve as a control group for research studies.
That same day, Maureen McDonnell asks Mr. Williams to buy her husband a Rolex watch. Even Mr. Williams was hesitant at first, asking if a senior government official would actually wear such a thing. But he acquiesced, buying a Rolex with "71st Governor of Virginia" engraved on the back that Mr. McDonnell later received as a Christmas gift.
Later that month, Star Scientific made an important announcement: It was launching its signature product at a reception at the governor's mansion, with university research scientists in attendance. For months afterward, Maureen McDonnell often appeared at Star Scientific events and discussed the company's virtues. But later that year, she sold more than 6,500 shares of its stock she owned to avoid having to report it on public disclosure forms, the indictment asserted.
Then, in February 2012, the McDonnells discussed transferring 50,000 shares of Star Scientific stock they could use as collateral for a loan for their failing real estate business, MoBo. But again to avoid public disclosure forms, the indictment said, Mr. Williams instead loaned the McDonnells $50,000. He is said to have told his assistant to void a check that listed Maureen McDonnell in the memo line and instead write a new check.
By February 2013, the scheme began to unravel. The indictment says Maureen McDonnell lied about being longtime friends with Mr. Williams, though he was an acquaintance as late as 2009. She and Bob McDonnell then tried to hide the $50,000 loan. She also returned clothes Mr. Williams had bought her, suggesting his daughter could use them or he could donate them to charity.