Cuccinelli lays out reasons for recusal from mansion chef case

RICHMOND — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s office says it needs someone else to prosecute the former chef at the governor’s mansion because a key witness in the case worked for Cuccinelli’s political fundraising firm.

In a brief filed Friday, Cuccinelli’s office said that Mary Shea Sutherland, former chief of staff to first lady Maureen McDonnell, is a witness in chef Todd Schneider’s felony embezzlement case.

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After leaving her job with McDonnell, Sutherland went to work for Benedetti & Farris, a fundraising firm that has worked for Cuccinelli, the presumptive GOP nominee for governor.

“The nature of the contractual relationship between the Cuccinelli campaign and Benedetti & Farris, and Sutherland’s position with Benedetti & Farris, could call into question her impartiality as a Commonwealth witness while the Office of the Attorney General is prosecuting the case,” said the brief, written by Senior Assistant Attorney General Patrick W. Dorgan.

Sutherland could not immediately be reached for comment.

Dorgan also said the office needs to be recused because Schneider, who had a private catering firm while working at the mansion, made it clear in a motion filed this week that he intends to defend himself with claims that he was entitled to take some of the food he is accused of stealing. His motion suggests that state employees had directed him to pay himself back for events he had catered at the mansion through his company by taking food from the mansion.

His motion had also raised questions about the conduct of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s family as part of his defense, suggesting that Maureen McDonnell and the couple’s five grown children had taken more food, liquor — even pots and pans — from the mansion than they were entitled to.

“By seeking this information, the defendant has made plain his intention of presenting his defense through information provided by the Governor’s administration and its staff,” Dorgan wrote. “If the defendant intends to call members of the Governor’s administration and its staff as witnesses in his defense, the Office of the Attorney General, as counsel for the Governor’s administration, could be placed in the untenable position of having to cross-examine individuals who work for our client regarding matters that arose during the execution of their official duties. Such matters would generally be part of the counsel that the Office of the Attorney General provides to the Governor’s administration, and creates a potential conflict of interest for the Office of the Attorney General in its prosecution of this case.”

Cuccinelli’s office announced earlier this week that it would seek recusal from the case, but did not at that time provide a reason.

Steve Benjamin, Schneider’s lawyer, declined to comment. He said earlier this week that he would oppose the recusal effort. The matter goes before the Richmond Circuit Court judge for a hearing May 2.

 
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