Attorneys Seek Separate Trials for Virginia Ex-Governor, Wife

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Wednesday, 26 Mar 2014 11:46 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Attorneys for Virginia Ex-Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are seeking separate trials for the couple, saying in a joint proceeding she won't be able to take the witness stand to offer testimony that exonerates her husband.

The filings were made late Tuesday, hours after the attorneys asked a judge to toss out the federal corruption charges filed in January against Virginia's former first couple, The Washington Post reported.

The paperwork suggests Maureen McDonnell may testify that her husband did not know everything about her activities with Richmond businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. and his dietary supplement company, Star Scientific, so there could have been no conspiracy to involve the governor's office in his business, the Post said.

In January, the McDonnells were indicted on 14 counts of receiving gifts and loans from Williams, totaling at least $165,000. In exchange, prosecutors said, the then-governor promoted Star's dietary supplement, Anatabloc, at public events; held a product launch for it; and set up meetings for Williams with senior state health officials. The prosecution also alleges that Williams worked with his wife to push state researchers into considering conducting trials for Anatabloc.

The indictments were filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on the McDonnells after he'd only been out of office for 10 days.  If convicted, they could face decades in prison and fines totaling well over $1 million.

The McDonnells' trial is scheduled to start in July, and they have pleaded not guilty. But if the trials are separated, Maureen McDonnell could become a key part of her husband's defense because she would be taking the stand to testify that he had "no timely knowledge of many of her interactions with Williams."

But she would likely invoke her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination at a joint trial, the filings say.

Her attorneys say that their attempts to separate the cases do not mean that she's admitting wrongdoing, but argue in the filings that she is "not a public official, and cannot be held criminally liable in her own right for public corruption," an argument they made earlier in the day in their request to drop her charges.

The attorneys also filed a motion to throw out a charge of obstruction of justice Maureen McDonnell is facing alone, saying she did not know about the federal investigation and did not try to hinder it.

The motion to sever also points to possible troubles in the couple's marriage, saying that the relationship was "strained" because of his work schedule, and he was not acting "in concert" with her and Williams.

"The government appears to be inferring a conspiracy solely by virtue of their marriage,” her attorneys wrote.

But last summer, as the federal investigation mounted, McDonnell said he and his wife returned more than $120,000 in loans to Williams and apologized for the episode. 

Between 2011 and 2012, Williams loaned the money to McDonnell’s wife and to a real estate business owned by the Republican governor and his sister.

McDonnell said last summer the repayments included $52,278 for a loan made to the governor’s wife in 2011 and $71,837 for two loans made to the real-estate business in 2012. The payments included both principal and interest, according to the statement.

The loans, along with other gifts from Williams, weren’t originally listed on McDonnell’s financial disclosure reports.

Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who lost the governor's race last year to replace the outgoing McDonnell, has also acknowledged failing to disclose gifts from Williams, including using the CEO’s vacation home during the summer of 2012.

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