McDonnell’s corporation, wife benefited from $120,000 more from donor, sources say


Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell faces scrutiny over his relationship with dietary supplement manufacturer. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

A prominent political donor gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his sister last year, and the governor did not disclose the money as a gift or loan, according to people with knowledge of the payments.

The donor, wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., also gave a previously unknown $50,000 check to the governor’s wife, Maureen, in 2011, the people said.

The money to the corporation and Maureen McDonnell brings to $145,000 the amount Williams gave to assist the McDonnell family in 2011 and 2012 — funds that are now at the center of federal and state investigations.

Williams, the chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific Inc., also provided a $10,000 check in December as a present to McDonnell’s eldest daughter, Jeanine, intended to help defray costs at her May 2013 wedding, the people said.

Virginia’s first family already is under intense scrutiny for accepting $15,000 from the same chief executive to pay for the catering at the June 2011 wedding of Cailin McDonnell at the Executive Mansion.

Timeline: Star Scientific and Gov. McDonnell

All the payments came as McDonnell and his wife took steps to promote the donor’s company and its products.

The payments to the corporation, confirmed by people familiar with the transactions, offer the first public example of money provided by Williams that would directly benefit the governor and not just his family.

The money went from a trust, controlled by Williams, to MoBo Real Estate Partners, a limited-liability corporation formed in 2005 by McDonnell and his sister, the sources said.

McDonnell viewed the payments to MoBo and to his wife as loans and not gifts, according to three people familiar with the transactions. State law requires elected officials to disclose their personal loans but not loans made to their corporate interests.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment on the payments other than to say that McDonnell has been diligent in filling out legally mandated disclosures.

“The rules that I’m following have been rules that have been in place for decades,” McDonnell said Tuesday on a Norfolk radio show. “These have been the disclosure rules of Virginia. I’m following those. To, after the fact, impose some new requirements on an official when you haven’t kept record of other gifts given to family members or things like that obviously wouldn’t be fair.”

State law requires the disclosure of any gift valued at more than $50, but gifts to family members are exempt.

Jerry Kilgore, an attorney for Williams, declined to comment on the payments. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney investigating the payments also declined to comment.

On state-mandated disclosure forms, McDonnell indicated that a member of his immediate family owed money to an unnamed individual creditor in 2011 and 2012. In one year, he described the creditor as someone in “medical services.” In the other year, the governor said the creditor was in “health care.” Star Scientific makes nutritional supplements.

The form did not specify the exact amount owed; the governor checked a box saying it was between $10,001 and $50,000.

The people familiar with the payments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of state and federal investigations of the governor, differed on whether any kind of payment plan had been established to reimburse Williams. They agreed that none of the money to the corporation or Maureen McDonnell has been repaid.

Revelations of the additional payments came as a federal grand jury was scheduled to hear testimony in the case this week. Separately, state prosecutors in Richmond are looking into whether the governor has complied with all disclosure laws.

McDonnell has said that Star Scientific received no special benefits from his administration and that any actions he or his wife took to boost the company were standard for any administration promoting state-based enterprises.

The $145,000 in payments from Williams came in addition to other undisclosed gifts that Williams gave to the governor’s family, including $15,000 in luxury clothing he bought for Maureen McDonnell and a $6,500 Rolex watch she asked him to purchase so she could give it to her husband.

McDonnell has disclosed receiving $9,650 in gifts from Williams, including private plane trips and the use of a summer lake-house vacation.

Wedding catering

Williams’s first payment to the McDonnell family came in a $50,000 check made out to Maureen McDonnell from his trust on May 23, 2011, the people familiar with the transactions said. That was the same day Williams wrote a separate check for the catering at Cailin McDonnell’s wedding.

Then, in March 2012, Williams wrote a $50,000 check from his trust to MoBo, which was followed by an additional $20,000 payment to the corporation that spring, the people said.

In annual financial-disclosure forms, McDonnell has indicated that he owns a stake in MoBo, which he reported was associated with two Virginia Beach rental properties he purchased in 2005 and 2006 with his wife and his sister, who is also named Maureen.

The name of MoBo, formed in 2005, apparently comes from the combination of the names “Maureen” and “Bob” and is the entity that makes mortgage payments on the homes and pays for the properties’ renovations and upkeep.

Virginia law allows elected officials to accept gifts of any size, including money, provided they annually disclose those worth at least $50. The law does not require the disclosure of gifts given to members of an elected official’s immediate family, nor gifts provided by relatives or “personal friends.”

McDonnell has said he considers Williams, whom he met shortly before his 2009 campaign for governor, to be a “family friend.” He has said the catering at the 2011 wedding was a gift to his daughter and did not need to be disclosed.

State law requires officials to disclose loans made to them and members of their immediate family. But it does not require elected officials to spell out their business liabilities.

One person familiar with MoBo’s finances indicated that corporate records show the governor and his sister agreed to a low-interest loan with Williams. Terms of the loan dictated that they would make no payments for three years but return the $70,000 by 2015.

That person indicated that MoBo had trouble keeping up with expenses after the collapse of the real estate market and had accepted three previous loans, two from McDonnell’s family in 2007 and 2008 and another from a family friend in 2010.

He indicated that the loan to the family friend has been satisfied and the loans from the family member have been partially repaid.

The payments came as Maureen McDonnell told friends that the first couple was facing financial stress, two people said, in part because of difficulty renting the beach houses.

The governor, his wife and sister purchased one of the homes for $1.15 million in 2005 and the other for $850,000 in 2006. According to assessments, the beach properties have declined in value since the McDonnells purchased them during a red-hot real estate market.

In his annual financial disclosures, the governor has also indicated an ownership stake in another rental property: at the Wintergreen mountain resort in central Virginia, purchased for $1 million in 2007.

Also, the first couple bought a $835,000 house in the Richmond suburbs in 2006, where they were living until they moved to the state’s 200-year-old Executive Mansion when McDonnell became governor in 2010.

Consulting payment alleged

As governor, McDonnell is paid $175,000 a year. His wife is not paid by the state for her volunteer work as first lady. However, the chief executive of a coal company recently said he paid her $36,000 last year to attend two or three meetings and act as a consultant to his company and family’s charitable efforts.

The governor has said Star Scientific received no government contracts, economic incentives or grants.

However, the company was allowed to use the governor’s mansion to hold a luncheon to mark the launch of a new product in August 2011.

A few weeks before, Maureen McDonnell arranged and attended a meeting between Williams and a top state official during which the executive presented new research about the potential health benefits of the supplement, Anatabloc, and proposed that Virginia consider examining whether its use could reduce health-care costs in the state.

And Virginia Secretary of Health Bill Hazel said for the first time last week that he also met one-on-one with Williams in 2010 so the chief executive could pitch Star Scientific.

Hazel said the meeting came at the urging of someone in the governor’s or first lady’s office, but he could not remember which.

He said such meetings are not unusual. He concluded that Williams’s product was “not ready for prime time” and said he was confident that Williams received no benefit from the meeting.

Alice Crites and Carol Leonnig in Washington and Laura Vozzella and Errin Whack contributed to this report.

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