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 Wednesday were hearing testimony from witnesses for the prosecution during a trial in federal court in Richmond.
Shortly after the conclusion of opening statements Tuesday, Judge James R. Spencer issued a direction from the bench: Witnesses in the case could no longer remain in the courtroom, where they would be exposed to testimony from their fellow witnesses.
What does that mean in the McDonnell case?
All five of McDonnell’s children are on the witness list, as are the husbands of his two married daughters. His sister is on the list and many of his friends. Nearly all of the staffers and advisers who were closest to him during his years in office are there too. All of those people are now barred from sitting in court behind the couple and showing support.
Still, both Bob and Maureen McDonnell come from large families and other members of their family with no connections to the case remained in the courtroom on Tuesday, along with several friends and the family’s priest, Rev. Wayne Ball.
But it is no wonder that McDonnell’s supporters have in recent weeks been trading emails, asking that his allies come to court to show support.
Day three of the Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell corruption trial opens with the return of Jerri Fulkerson for to stand. Fulkerson served for nearly 20 years as a personal assistant to Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the dietary supplement executive who prosecutors have accused of bribing the McDonnells with gifts and loans.
Fulkerson has been given immunity for her testimony, apparently because she is a notary and will discuss some documents that she signed Williams name to – at his direction – and then notarized. In their opening statements Tuesday, defense lawyers suggested Fulkerson was used by her boss, Williams, who they said ordered her to take actions without regard to any trouble she might get into. Maureen McDonnell’s attorney, William Burck, said Williams “duped” Fullkerson – just as he said he had duped the former first lady.
Fulkerson’s testimony began late Tuesday, when she spoke for about 45 minutes about booking flights for the couple on Williams’ private plane and she talked about how disappointed Williams was when the governor was unable to attend an event for his company Star Scientific in Florida in 2011 because it took place three days before his daughter’s wedding. Maureen McDonnell attended instead.
The corruption trial of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, opened in earnest Tuesday with a bang. The McDonnells’ attorneys revealed their defense will revolve around the ideas that the first couple’s marriage was crumbling and the first lady had a crush on businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
Williams is the linchpin in prosecutor’s case that McDonnell’s accepted lavish gifts in exchange for promoting his dietary supplement business, Star Scientific. Here is the setup from Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind Helderman and Laura Vozzella from today’s Post:
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife on Tuesday unveiled an unorthodox defense to the federal corruption charges against them: Maureen McDonnell had a “crush” on the charismatic executive who lavished gifts and cash on the couple.
Maureen McDonnell’s intense — even romantic — interest in Jonnie R. Williams Sr. helps explain why she let him pay for expensive shopping trips and vacations for her and her family while she promoted a nutritional supplement he was trying to sell, defense attorneys said during opening statements. She was not hatching a scheme with her husband to get rich by abusing the prestige of the governor’s office; rather, she was a woman in a broken marriage who craved attention.
Other key events from day two:
So what can we expect from day three? For starters, more testimony from an assistant to Williams and a handful of other prosecution witnesses. The major development of the day could come if and when Williams himself takes the stand for the prosecution. The trial is expected to turn on his testimony.
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Prosecutors opened Day 3 of the corruption trial of Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell with an attempt to impress on jurors the notion that the McDonnells acted entitled with, and were demanding of, dietary supplement executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
Federal prosecutor David Harbach showed an e-mail to Williams’s assistant, Jerri Fulkerson, from Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, indicating that the first lady and Williams had agreed that McDonnells’ twin sons and his eldest daughter, Jeanine, should fly on Williams’s private plane from Richmond to a resort in Bath County to attend the governor’s annual retreat.
Sutherland continued that the twins would board the plane in Richmond, “the plane would then go to Virginia Beach to get Jeanine and then take the three of them to the Homestead.” Fulkerson was responsible for making arrangements for the use of Williams’s jet.
Harbach noted that over the years, Williams had made his plane available for use by a number of Virginia politicians. Fulkerson testified that Williams’ did not want his plane to fly from Richmond to Virginia Beach and, instead, all three children ended up flying together out of Richmond.
“Can you recall any other time when a politician asked for the use of Mr. Williams’s plane to transport their children over a space of a one and a half hour drive?” he asked Fulkerson.
“No,” she responded.
“Do you recall a time any other politician asked for the use of Mr. Williams’s plane to fly their children at all?” he continued.
“No,” she responded.
In the summer of 2011, the McDonnells were supposed to fly to Bar Harbor, Maine, on Jonnie Williams’s jet, and enjoy a weekend of meals and golf outings, Williams’s assistant testified Wednesday. The itinerary was set — and shown to jurors – and it might have served as another example of a gift the dietary supplement executive bestowed to the then-governor.
But Robert F. McDonnell’s official duties got in the way, Williams’s assistant testified. The assistant, Jerri Fulkerson, said Virginia was slammed with severe weather that weekend, and the governor had to cancel. The trip did not go on without him, she testified.
“One of the hurricanes came in, and Virginia was a disaster area, so the governor couldn’t leave,” Fulkerson testified.
With photos of a grand lakeside estate and descriptions of a boat rental and borrowed luxury cars, aide Jerri Fulkerson painted a portrait of Jonnie Williams’s rolling out the red carpet for the McDonnells.
Fulkerson told the jury about making plans for the McDonnell family to stay at Williams’s Smith Mountain Lake home. Photos of the grand home, with a brick driveway, wood-shingled roof and private dock, flashed on video screens for jurors.
The prosecutor also presented e-mails between Fulkerson and Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, about having a boat delivered to the vacation home for the McDonnells to use during their stay there in July 2011.
“I’m still trying to find out about Rachel and the car,” Fulkerson wrote in one message. On the stand, Fulkerson explained that she was referring to making arrangements for one of the McDonnells’ daughters to use Williams’s Range Rover while at the vacation home.
Fulkerson also described making plans to have Williams’s Ferrari transported to the home for the governor’s use.
When news broke last year that McDonnell had driven Williams’s Ferrari on the three-hour drive between Smith Mountain and Richmond, the governor said that he had merely done Williams a favor; he said the car was at the vacation home, but Williams wanted it moved to Richmond, so the governor drove it to the Executive Mansion at the conclusion of their trip.
But Fulkerson testified that at Star employee, Matt Hunter, drove the Ferrari to the vacation home so that it would be available for the governor. Jurors were shown an invoice for a limo service that Star hired to pick up Hunter after he dropped off the car.
Jonnie R Williams Sr. seems to have been generous, at least at times, with his personal assistant. When she found a stock certificate that had gone missing in July 2012, the assistant testified Wednesday, Williams rewarded her with some stock of her own. She said she was able to cash it in for $40,000 to $45,000, per Williams’s instructions, and buy a vehicle.
Then, in December of that year, Williams offered her another bonus, and she requested it in stock, the assistant, Jerri Fulkerson, testified. But there was a hiccup. Fulkerson testified that she did not get her bonus until January 2013, and Williams told her he could not give her stock due to the ongoing federal investigation. He gave her $20,000 instead, in a somewhat unorthodox way.
“I wrote the check,” Fulkerson testified. “He signed the check.”
Prosecutor David Harbach has just concluded asking Jonnie Williams’ assistant Jerri Fulkerson about a vacation paid for by the dietary supplement executive for former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s daughter Rachel McDonnell over Labor Day weekend 2012.
Fulkerson explained that Rachel McDonnell wanted to go to Florida with a friend. After consulting with her boss, she arranged to pay for the two’s commercial airfare to Tampa, and then arranged transportation in Williams’ Range Rover once they arrived in Tampa. In an email shown to Fulkerson, she explained to Rachel that the two would stay at Williams’ condo and that she had arranged passes for the two for the Ritz Carlton Beach Club. Harbach then showed Fulkerson another invoice and let Fulkerson explain that she had, in addition, arranged to charter the yacht “By Grace” for their use during the trip, paying $1,300 either from Williams’ accounts or from those of Star Scientific.
The trip took place the same weekend that Williams’ himself was vacationing with the governor and first lady at Chatham Bars Inn Resort in Cape Cod, Mass. Fulkerson explained she made the arrangements for that trip as well–four rooms/suites for the McDonnells, the Williamses, Star consultant Dr. Paul Ladenson and his wife and Phil Cox and his wife. Cox was McDonnell’s chief political adviser and now serves as executive director of the Republican Governors’ Association. She said she arranged for travel on Williams’ private plan for the trip, as well as golf tee times, use of a yacht for a day, dinner reservations and a spa day for the women.
The largesse of Jonnie R. Williams Sr. seems to have extended far beyond Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell themselves; he was also generous with their children, Williams’s personal assistant testified Wednesday.
One example, per the personal assistant, Jerri Fulkerson: Williams wanted to give an expensive generator to Jeanine McDonnell, one of the McDonnells’ daughters, and her husband, Adam Zubowsky, as a wedding gift. But when he found the logistics and expense of the generator’s installation not to his liking, he went a different route: writing the couple a $10,000 check and buying first-class tickets for their honeymoon, Fulkerson testified.
And that wasn’t the only time Williams lent a hand in relation to the wedding. Fulkerson testified that her boss also authorized her to use his American Express points to buy plane tickets for the McDonnells’ two other daughters as they flew to Jeanine’s bachelorette party in Savannah, Ga.
Fulkerson also testified that Williams arranged a vacation for Rachel McDonnell and a friend in Florida in 2012 and wrote a $15,000 check for wedding catering before Cailin McDonnell-Young’s 2011 nuptials.
Defense attorneys have made clear they will attack Jonnie R. Williams’s credibility by arguing that the former Star Scientific executive has gotten an overly sweet deal in exchange for his testimony.
They may have gotten a new bit of ammunition for the argument Wednesday.
Williams’s assistant, Jerri Fulkerson, testified that Williams omitted some pending liabilities on an October 2012 loan application to a bank — loans he had made to a friend named John McKeon. Prosecutors have charged McDonnell with a similar offense, charging that he filed false loan applications with two banks by omitting loans he had received from Williams; Williams faces no similar criminal charges.
Defense attorneys will almost certainly return to this topic when they are given an opportunity to cross-examine Fulkerson. Under questioning from the government, she took the blame for the omission. “They just totally slipped my mind,” she said, explaining how she generally prepared such documents for Williams before reviewing them thoroughly with him.
She said Williams called her in January 2013 and asked her about the omission. She then wrote an e-mail to a lawyer for Star Scientific as she explored whether to amend the form. In that e-mail, she also took the blame: “It never crossed my mind that I need to list these on the financials,” she wrote the lawyer.
Prosecutors did not ask her whether Williams’s call came before or after he was interviewed by authorities for the first time that month.