Ex-chef: Governor McDonnell used Virginia assets for personal, political purposes

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell repeatedly used state assets for personal and political purposes, including directing state employees to work at private and political events, according to new allegations from McDonnell’s former chef.

The allegations come in court documents filed Monday as Todd Schneider defends himself against charges that he embezzled food from the governor’s mansion while working as the executive chef from 2010 to 2012.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the Republican governor, called the allegations “claims made by an individual facing four felony charges of embezzlement.”

“Assertions regarding this matter should be properly considered in a court of law,” he said.

In the filing, attorneys for Schneider contend that he was forced by the governor to cater a variety of personal and political events at the mansion and was essentially used as a “personal shopper.” They say he never got paid for the extra work.


In this July 14, 2010, photo, executive chef Todd Schneider poses in the dining room of the Executive Mansion in Richmond. (Joe Mahoney/Associated Press)

Instead, Schneider alleges that he was told by the director of the mansion to take his payment in food and supplies purchased through the mansion.

The events included appreciation dinners and luncheons for the governor’s political action committee, Republican Party of Virginia leadership receptions and a Christmas party for the governor’s former law firm.

Under a law passed in 2008, it is illegal in Virginia to use public assets for “private or personal purposes” unrelated to a legitimate government interest. The chef’s legal team also cites a state employee handbook to show that using public employees for political purposes violates state policy.

The filing indicates that Schneider also told investigators that the McDonnells used state employees to run errands for their adult children and used state credit cards to buy personal items for the family.

The allegations offer new details about the defense Schneider will offer when his case comes to trial in October.

They were filed now as part of a bid to persuade a judge to dismiss the charges before then. A hearing will be held July 8.

Schneider’s attorneys, Steven Benjamin and Betty Layne DesPortes, argue that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had conflicts of interest in the case so severe that they poisoned his ability to fairly decide whether to charge Schneider.

Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Cuccinelli, declined to comment, citing a gag order imposed by the judge in the case.

The chef’s attorneys say that Cuccinelli’s alleged conflicts led him to pursue Schneider even as he ignored information of other alleged wrongdoing in the mansion that Schneider brought to authorities’ attention when they questioned him about the supposedly pilfered food. Cuccinelli’s office also dismissed the defense he offered because it would implicate Cuccinelli’s client, the governor, the lawyers argued.

They have previously said that Schneider gave a top Cuccinelli deputy information in March 2012 showing that a prominent donor for McDonnell paid for the catering at his daughter’s 2011 wedding and that McDonnell never disclosed the gift. The governor has said it was a wedding present for his daughter.

But Cuccinelli had a relationship with the same donor, Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Cuccinelli owned stock in the company and accepted gifts from Williams, some of which he had not disclosed as required by law at the time Schneider was interviewed.

In November, Cuccinelli secretly directed Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring to conduct a review of McDonnell’s annual gift disclosures.

But Schneider’s attorneys now contend that Cuccinelli never acted on other information the chef brought forward, namely his allegations that McDonnell was misusing state funds. Cuccinelli had a conflict of interest about the information, they allege, because his role requires him to represent the governor and state interests.

Cuccinelli argued successfully in May that he should be allowed to recuse himself from the case, and the judge appointed the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney to act as special prosecutor.

The attorney general argued he could not proceed with the case because the chef made clear in court filings that he would be accusing the governor, his client, of wrongdoing as part of his defense.

But Schneider’s attorneys said that the chef first made those accusations in February 2012 and that Cuccinelli did not seek to remove himself from the case until after deciding to ask a grand jury to indict Schneider in March 2013. Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory D. Underwood has argued Cuccinelli’s conflict of interest was resolved when the judge removed him from the case.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
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