Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, are battling a 14-count public corruption indictment that alleges they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to a Richmond-area businessman, and in exchange, the businessman lavished them with gifts and money. Jurors on Thursday were hearing testimony from witnesses for the prosecution during a trial in federal court in Richmond.
After a lunch break, testimony in the trial of Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell resumed with the manager of an exclusive Richmond-area country club taking the stand.
Prosecutor Ryan Faulconer questioned Phil Owenby, general manager of Kinloch, the private Goochland County course where Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. had a membership and treated then-Gov. McDonnell and his sons to multiple golf outings.
Owenby testified that Kimloch caps membership at 500. It costs $50,000 for a membership, plus $11,000 a year in annual dues.
After a short break due to a sick juror, Phil Owenby, general manager at the exclusive Kinloch golf club in Richmond, continued his testimony about the repeated trips Robert F. McDonnell and his sons took to the club on Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s tab.
Only once did Williams golf with the McDonnells, Owenby said. On four other occasions, McDonnell golfed alone with his sons. Several times, one or both of his sons golfed without either Williams or their father. Each time, the group paid hundreds of dollars in golf fees, caddies, merchandise and food. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer asked Owenby repeatedly whether the caddy fees charged to Williams’ account included gratuities for the employees. Yes, he said, they did.
During August 2011, members of the McDonnell family golfed three times at the club on Williams’s account, each time racking up hundreds in food and fees. Faulconer asked Owenby, was Williams with the group on any of the visits? No, he said.
Faulconer also showed Owenby pictures of apparel — short- and long-sleeve shirts and one golf bag — emblazoned with the Kinloch logo and asked where they could be purchased. Owenby said only in the golf shop of the club.
The prosecutor concluded his questions by flashing a photo of a credit card machine in the Kinloch golf shop. Could a person pay for merchandise in the shop with a credit card, he asked Owenby. He replied yes. How about the restaurant? Could a guest pay with a credit card there? Yes, Owenby replied.
“In the four times that Mr. McDonnell was at your golf course, did he ever ask you how he should pay for anything?” Faulconer asked Owenby.
No, Owenby said.
During the cross-examination, McDonnell’s lawyer asked if the governor had ever tried to conceal his identity at the club; Owenby said that the governor was always outgoing and friendly.
Owenby’s testimony then wrapped up, and the prosecution called one of the McDonnells’ twin sons, Bobby, to the stand.
Robert F. McDonnell’s son Robert Ryan “Bobby” McDonnell took the stand to testify about gifts he received from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in the summer of 2011. He testified that in June 2011, he played nine holes of golf with Williams at the Homestead resort, where his father held an annual political retreat.
About a week later, Bobby McDonnell said, Williams called and said he was sending a present to his house. A set of golf clubs in a bag with the University of Virginia logo, where McDonnell was a student, then arrived, along with a pair of golf shoes.
McDonnell testified that he thanked Williams and then told his father about the gift. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer asked McDonnell to describe his father’s reaction.
“His reaction was that I should send them back,” Bobby McDonnell responded.
“Do you remember him telling you it seemed a little excessive?” Faulconer asked. Bobby McDonnell responded that he did.
But McDonnell testified he kept the clubs anyway. He figured he had developed an “independent relationship” with Williams since meeting him a few months before.
“Did you ever use the clubs in your father’s presence?” Faulconer asked.
Bobby McDonnell said he did.
Then Faulconer asked if the governor ever expressed feelings that it was at all excessive that his son had golfed on Williams’s account with a friend without either him or Williams being present. Bobby McDonnell said he did not believe so.
During cross-examination McDonnell testified that he and his father argued over whether he could accept the gift. Maureen McDonnell took her son’s side.
“My mother even weighed in and sided with me that I should be able to keep the clubs because they were a gift to me,” Bobby said.
Defense attorney Dan Small asked Bobby McDonnell if Williams had ever asked him for anything, including talking to his parents about his medical company Star Scientific.
“No, sir, never,” Bobby said.
Bobby had used a set of Ram clubs his father had bought for him when he was 12 or 13.
“They were used and they were used a lot,” Bobby McDonnell said.
Bobby McDonnell testified that Williams noticed how old and beat up his clubs were and sent him the set of Callaway clubs. But he said he never asked for the clubs and did not even know Williams had purchased them until the executive phoned to say he’d sent a present to Bobby at the mansion.
Bobby McDonnell said he called Williams and “thanked him many times” for the clubs.
The trial of Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell resumes at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, when prosecutors’ star witness, Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., will return to the witness stand to continue describing how he lavished the McDonnells with cash and gifts so they would lend the credibility of the governor’s office to his dietary supplement company. He was first called to testify for about an hour Wednesday — the third day in proceedings that are expected to stretch for about five weeks.
But was that too soon to put such a key and controversial witness on the stand?
Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor now at the Shulman Rogers firm, said in an e-mail that he was “surprised” prosecutors had put Williams on the stand so quickly. He said he would have predicted Williams would begin his testimony Friday because “as a prosecutor you want the jury to go into the first weekend with the testimony of your key witness not yet complete or just completed, with the defense not yet having had a chance to start cross-examination.”
He said it would be a “major tactical blunder for the prosecution if the trial recesses for the weekend with cross-examination having started, because whatever bump the prosecution gets from the direct examination will immediately get pummeled on cross.”
Indeed, defense attorneys have already attacked Williams’s credibility vigorously, referring to him as a “master manipulator,” and noting he was given immunity for his testimony — possibly saving himself from charges in a $10 million stock fraud case. How Williams responds to their questions on the witness stand will be a pivotal moment in the case.
It remains unclear, though, exactly how long Williams will be on the stand, and when defense attorneys will get their crack at him. Jerri Fulkerson, Williams’s longtime personal assistant, testified herself about the case for several hours — starting late Tuesday and taking up all the time before lunch on Wednesday. Her boss, surely, will be on the witness stand for much longer.
On day three of the corruption trial of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, we got to the heart of the accusations against the couple as businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. took the stand.
Williams is the linchpin in prosecutor’s case that McDonnell’s accepted lavish gifts in exchange for promoting his dietary supplement business, Star Scientific. From his testimony Wednesday:
For $65,000, he testified, Maureen McDonnell said she would help his company, with her husband’s blessing.
“She said to me, ‘I have a background in nutritional supplements, and I can be helpful to you with this project with your company,” Jonnie R. Williams Sr. testified, describing a private meeting with Maureen McDonnell in the governor’s mansion in May 2011. “ ‘The governor says it’s okay for me to help you, but I need you to help me with this financial situation.’ ”
He will resume his testimony Thursday and is expected to flesh out details of the many lavish gifts the McDonnells are accused of accepting. The defense is expected to attack the credibility of Williams, who cooperated with authorities in the face of a securities probe.
Earlier in the day, an aide to Williams detailed the vacations, plane rides and cash her boss showered on the McDonnells. She did not bolster the defense’s suggestion that there was a romantic relationship between Maureen McDonnell and Williams, saying she did not know how close they were and that a trip they took together was business related.
Bobby McDonnell, the former governor’s son, testified about his own relationship with Williams. The businessman was a “mentor,” he said, who gave him a set of golf clubs and offered him an internship. He also recalled the infamous Rolex that Williams bought for Maureen to give Gov. McDonnell, saying he thought the watch was a fake and that his father’s reaction was cool – “another watch?”
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When Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. learned the governor’s wife had purchased stock in his dietary supplement company, his reaction was not one of pleasure, the businessman testified Wednesday. Williams said that he told Maureen McDonnell she should instead sell her shares so she could cover personal debts.
“I said, ‘Maureen, this is a risky investment doing things like this,’” Williams testified. “I thought I loaned you that money to pay your bills.”
The exchange came soon after a June 2011 event in Florida at which Maureen McDonnell talked favorably about Williams’s company and a new supplement he was trying to promote. It was also not long after Williams had agreed to loan the governor’s wife $50,000 upon hearing about her mounting credit card bills and struggling real estate investments.
Williams said he first learned the governor’s wife had purchased stock in his company, Star Scientific, when she asked him why the stock was down. He said he told her biotech companies’ stock typically gyrates and inquired as to why she was curious. She said she had bought some shares, Williams testified.
Despite him telling her to sell her shares, Williams said he was unsure if she actually did.
Maureen McDonnell told a room full of doctors and investors at a Florida conference that she would promote businessman Jonnie Williams’s dietary supplement Anatabloc around Virginia, Williams said Thursday as he resumed testimony.
“I’m going to go with Jonnie and the state trooper and have him drive us to every doctor in Virginia to let them know about it,” Williams said the first lady announced at at Star Scientific conference in Florida in June 2011.
Her statements came just days before the wedding of her daughter Cailin. Williams paid the $15,000 catering bill for the wedding. He also paid for Maureen McDonnell and her chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, to stay at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota the night before her statement.
According to dietary supplement executive Jonnie Williams, he told Robert F. McDonnell right from the start what he wanted from the governor and the commonwealth.
He says he lent McDonnell his plane to fly to a campaign event in California for Meg Whitman in October 2010, then flew commercial to the state so he could link up with the plane and accompany McDonnell home to Virginia. On the five- to six-hour return flight, he described to the governor the studies he hoped to initiate of his dietary supplement Anatabloc.
October 2010 was before Williams had given nearly any of the gifts and loans he eventually showered on McDonnell and his family.
Repeatedly, U.S. Attorney Michael Dry has asked Williams: Had you ever discussed the studies you were seeking from the state of Virginia with the governor? Yes, Williams responded. On the plane. “I was on the plane with him for five or six hours,” he testified.
What about the idea of getting the Tobacco Commission to pay for those studies? What was the first time Williams discussed that with Williams? “As I was discussing it with the governor on the flight, he thought it was a good idea to get independent funding for this and he thought the Tobacco Commission was a good idea,” Williams said.
He testified that he later hired former attorney general Jerry Kilgore, whose brother is the chairman of the commission, to help lobby for the funding. But he said the idea for the funding predated Kilgore’s involvement. “He thought it was a good idea,” Williams said of McDonnell.
In June of 2011, Jonnie Williams said he got a call from Maureen McDonnell. The first lady of Virginia wanted him to attend the governor’s annual political retreat at the Homestead resort in Bath County.
“Maureen contacted me and said, ‘You need to come to this event. You’ll get to spend some time and play golf with the governor,’” he testified at the federal corruption trial of Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell.
But her offer came with a catch: She wanted him to fly his private plane and bring some of the adult McDonnell children to the event. Her first proposal: His plane should pick up some of the children in Richmond, fly to Virginia Beach to pick up another McDonnell in Virginia Beach and then fly on to the Homestead.
He testified he agreed only to fly from Richmond: “It’s difficult in a jet to do short hops like that,” he said.
On arriving at the hotel, he said he was greeted in the lobby by Maureen McDonnell and Adam Zubowksy, an aide to the governor. He ended up playing golf with the governor for four hours on that trip.
“I can’t tell you exactly specifically,” he said, when asked if he had talked up Star Scientific on the links. But, he added, “This is something that’s important to me. I’m generally trying to move it forward whenever I can.”
Prosecutor Michael Dry drops infamous Rolex watch as he questions Jonnie Williams about it. “Still works,” he says, picking it up.
— Matt Zapotosky (@mattzap) July 31, 2014
The infamous Rolex watch – for prosecutors, a symbol of power and greed at the center of the case against Bob and Maureen McDonnell — was reduced Thursday to Government’s Exhibit 33 and handed to jurors.
Each one looked it over, front and back, and then passed it to the next.
Williams testified how he phoned Maureen McDonnell from the Malibu jewelry store where he was purchasing the watch for $6,000 or $7,000 to find out if she wanted it engraved.
“She said, ‘Put 71st governor of Virginia on it,’” Williams told the jurors.