“Conventional wisdom is that you use the mansion for the business of the people and for things that are going to benefit the state,” she said, especially if a company will bring economic development and jobs.
Star had about 35 employees when it launched Anatabloc. The dietary supplement is manufactured by a company subsidiary in Massachusetts.
Williams, 57, a Virginia native, gained a reputation in his early 20s as a wunderkind who could sell anything to anyone. In his early years in Fredericksburg, he sold cars, real estate and eyeglasses.
In 1979, when he was 24, he was profiled in his hometown newspaper under the headline “Super Salesman.”
Williams has now spent more than a decade looking for healthful ways to profit from chemicals found in tobacco and to remake the image of what was once the mainstay of the Virginia economy.
Along the way, Williams made powerful friends. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, has stayed at Williams’s home near Richmond and has used his boat. Cuccinelli also is a Star Scientific investor.
Although Williams isn’t the biggest donor in Virginia politics, he has access to something that makes him especially valuable: a private jet.
He has offered the plane to his friends, and his friends have included a number of Republicans who have run for Virginia’s highest offices.
Kilgore received more than $27,000 in donations and in-kind travel from Williams, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.
Williams helped found Star Scientific in 1990 as Star Tobacco, a cigarette and cigar company. In 1994, the company launched research aimed at creating less harmful cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, using a curing technique that Williams said he invented with a microwave oven.
More recently, Star has branched out into biotech, first introducing a product that reduces the urge to smoke and, later, focusing on its dietary supplement, Anatabloc. Last year, the company introduced a facial cream that also contains anatabine.
Williams had a knack for cultivating politicians and celebrities who could assist the company. Anatabloc’s paid pitchmen include professional golfer Fred Couples.
Kilgore said Williams has run a number of companies that have thrived and holds 14 patents for his work with tobacco curing and Anatabloc.
“Quite frankly, no successful businessman hasn’t had bumps in the road,” Kilgore said. “Everything isn’t a straight highway to success. . . . He’s had several successful businesses.”
Caldwell said McDonnell has known Williams for about five years and considers Williams and his wife, Celeste, “family friends.”