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Case against McDonnells will proceed
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen (center), leave federal court in Richmond on Monday after a motions hearing. On Tuesday, a judge tossed out a motion to dismiss most of the charges against the couple. (AP)
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
RICHMOND (AP) — The corruption case against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, is set to go to trial this summer after a judge tossed out a motion to dismiss most of the charges against the couple.
U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer also decided Tuesday that the former first couple should be tried together rather than apart.
The rulings are the latest in a series of setbacks for the McDonnells’ legal team, which had had several motions denied since the former first couple was indicted in January.
The Republican and his wife are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc. In exchange, they would help promote his products, according to prosecutors. Those gifts include shopping sprees for designer clothes and accessories, a Rolex watch, $15,000 in catering expenses for a daughter’s wedding, golf outings and a lake-house vacation stay that included use of Williams’ Ferrari, according to the indictment.
Part of the bribery scheme involved opening up the Executive Mansion for a launch party for a Star Scientific product and arranging a meeting between Williams and a state health official, according to prosecutors.
The McDonnells’ legal team has argued that those are not “official” actions under federal bribery law, and therefore most of the case should be thrown out.
But Spencer said Tuesday in a brief filing that McDonnells’ actions could be considered “official” acts, and it’s up to a jury to determine if the former first couple’s conduct constitutes corruption.
Defense lawyers also had pressed for separate trials, saying Maureen McDonnell was willing to give testimony exonerating her husband at his trial. But they added that Maureen McDonnell is not willing to testify at a joint trial because it would hamper her defense on a separate obstruction of justice charge filed solely against her.
Spencer said the defense had only offered vague statements that didn’t show a compelling need for separate trials.
In March, Spencer rejected several motions filed by the defense seeking to limit prosecutors’ involvement in a civil case against Williams, requesting immediate disclosure of certain evidence and detailed description of the alleged crimes committed by the McDonnells.
Last year’s highly public investigation and the subsequent indictment crippled the political career of Bob McDonnell, once a rising star in the Republican Party who had even been considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012.
If convicted, the McDonnells could face a long stretch in prison. Twelve of the charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, two by up to 30 years. Potential fines range from $250,000 to $1 million.
The McDonnells also are charged with lying on bank loan documents.
Their trial is set for July and is expected to last several weeks.