Richmond, Va. – Former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen pleaded not guilty in court Friday morning following their indictment on federal charges of accepting illegal gifts.
McDonnell is the first governor to be indicted in the state’s history.
The McDonnells entered court with a group of about 25 people, including a half-dozen lawyers. Their trial will start July 28th and is expected to last about a month.
The judge warned both sides in the case that he will jail anyone who leaks information to the media.
The federal probe involved the relationship between the governor and his wife with Jonnie Williams, the chief executive of troubled nutritional supplement company Star Scientific.
Authorities allege that Williams gave gifts and loans to the first family of Virginia, and that they promoted his company.
The McDonnells were indicted on a combined 14 counts including Honest-Services Wire Fraud, Obtaining Property under Color of Official Right, making False Statement, and Obstruction of Official Proceedings.
The McDonnells “participated in a scheme,” from April 2011 through March 2013, to use Bob McDonnell’s “official position as the Governor of Virginia to enrich the defendants and their family members by soliciting and obtaining payments, loans, gifts, and other things of value from JW and Star Scientific in exchange for Bob McDonnell and the Office of the Governor performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arose, to legitimize, promote, and obtain research studies for Star Scientific’s products, including Anatabloc®,” according to the indictment.
An earlier probe uncovered evidence that Williams had given the governor and his family more than $150,000 in gifts and loans over an 18-month period. Such gifts included Rolex watches, family vacations, loans for McDonnell’s real estate business, and even a $15,000 check to his daughter for her wedding.
In statement following the indictment, McDonnell admitted to poor judgment.
“I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility,” he said.
“However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship,” he added.
McDonnell added that he “never promised – and Mr. Williams and his company never received” any “government benefit” from him or his administration.
“We did not violate the law,” he said.
McDonnell’s successor, Terry McAuliffe, issued his own statement after the charges were filed.
“As this case progresses, it is my sincerest hope that justice will be served and that Virginians get the answers to which they are entitled,” he said. “As Governor, I will remain focused on leading this Commonwealth in a way that restores Virginians’ trust in government and honors their expectation of transparency and accountability.”