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Live updates: Sentencing of Maureen McDonnell

February 20, 2015
Former first lady Maureen McDonnell, left, arrives at federal court with her son, Bobby, for her sentencing on corruption charges on Friday in Richmond. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former first lady Maureen McDonnell, left, arrives at federal court with her son, Bobby, for her sentencing on corruption charges on Friday in Richmond. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to one year and one day Friday for conspiring to lend the prestige of the governor’s office to Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for $177,000 in loans, vacations and luxury items. Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) was sentenced in January to two years in federal prison for his role in the case. The McDonnells were convicted in September.

McDonnell gifts list | Bob vs. Jonnie | Twitter: Latest |  The trial | Indictment

  • John Woodrow Cox
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Thanks for following our live coverage of today’s hearing. We’ll have much more on The Post’s homepage, and this story will develop throughout the afternoon, so check back often.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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Dana Boente of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a statement on Twitter after today’s sentencing:

  • Rachel Weiner
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Former governor Bob McDonnell told reporters after his wife’s sentencing that, while he was grateful for the judge’s mercy, the jury made the wrong decision in the couple’s case.

“I was a prosecutor,” he said. “Sometimes juries get it wrong, and I believe with all my heart that the jury got it wrong in this case. I look forward to aggressively pursuing this appeal.”

He said he was “buoyed” by an appeals court decision to stay his sentence pending review.

  • Rachel Weiner
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The Rev. Wayne Ball, the Catholic priest who has supported the McDonnells throughout their ordeal, said Maureen acted “with courage and with faith” Friday.

“It was difficult for her to have to stand in front of people and say what she did, but she did it with courage and with faith,” Ball said. “And that faith will continue to carry her through the appeals process.”

Bob McDonnell has been living with Ball at the rectory of his Richmond church since shortly before the corruption trial began.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
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After the sentencing, Maureen McDonnell’s defense attorneys thanked U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer for showing mercy but vowed to appeal the case nonetheless.

Noting that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had already granted bond to her husband — an indication that the judges feel there is an issue at least worthy of their consideration — defense attorney Randy Singer said: “We intend to file an appeal and pursue those issues vigorously.”

“We still believe in Maureen’s innocence, and we intend to seek her complete vindication,” Singer said.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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Former first lady Maureen McDonnell, right, follows a security guard as she arrives at federal court for her sentencing on corruption charges in Richmond, Va., Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former first lady Maureen McDonnell follows a security guard as she arrives at federal court for her sentencing on corruption charges in Richmond on Friday. She was sentenced to 366 days in prison. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former First Lady Maureen McDonnell, right, arrives at federal court with her son, Bobby,  for her sentencing on corruption charges in Richmond, Va., Friday, Feb. 20, 2015.  Federal prosecutors have recommended an 18-month prison term, six months less than former Gov. Bob McDonnell received when he was convicted on 11 counts last month.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Federal prosecutors had recommended an 18-month prison term for McDonnell, shown with her son Bobby on Friday. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former First Lady Maureen McDonnell, right, arrives at federal court with her son, Bobby,  for her sentencing on corruption charges in Richmond, Va., Friday, Feb. 20, 2015.  Federal prosecutors have recommended an 18-month prison term, six months less than former Gov. Bob McDonnell received when he was convicted on 11 counts last month.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, right, arrives at federal court with son Bobby before her sentencing. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell arrives at federal court for his wife Maureen's sentencing in Richmond, Va. Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. Federal prosecutors have recommended an 18-month prison term for Maureen McDonnell.  (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Hyunsoo Leo Kim)

Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell arrives at federal court in Richmond for wife Maureen’s sentencing Friday. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Hyunsoo Leo Kim)

  • Rachel Weiner
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After the hearing’s conclusion, Maureen McDonnell turned around and briefly embraced her husband, former governor Bob McDonnell, as he kissed her on her cheek. She then turned to her children, Cailin, Rachel and Bobby McDonnell, offering them much longer hugs, each in turn.

Maureen McDonnell had tears in her eyes but appeared composed, at one point even offering a smile to her son-in-law. Both she and her husband then made their way around the courtroom, offering hugs and saying thank you to people who had come to support the former first lady.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
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Before Judge James Spencer sentenced Maureen McDonnell, assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber offered the prosecution’s one lengthy statement for the day, asking that Spencer sentence the former first lady to 18 months in prison.

She stressed the “seriousness of the crime” and skepticism of government that requires courts to take a stand against bribery and inappropriate influence. “Corruption in government is not normal,” she said. “Harsh penalties must be imposed on public officials who accept bribes and on those who assist them in accepting bribes.”

Aber addressed McDonnell’s much-discussed anxiety and stress, which had been presented as possible mitigating factors, but the prosecutor compared them to the stresses that face many criminal defendants: extreme poverty, drug problems, physical abuse, childhoods spent surrounded by only crime.

That is stress,” Aber said. “More than public speaking… or sending your kids off to college.”

“The McDonnells acted in concert,” she said, displaying “irrefutable entitlement.”

“This was not a mistake, this was not a one time lapse in judgment,” she said. “This was a crime of opportunistic greed.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
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U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer just sentenced Maureen McDonnell to a year and a day in prison — which is actually better news than if she had been sentenced to exactly a year.

In the federal system, inmates with sentences longer than a year can get them reduced 54 days a year for good behavior. If McDonnell had received a sentence of a year or less, she would not have been eligible.

McDonnell has vowed to appeal her sentence, and Spencer did allow her to remain free on bond while that process plays out. That was largely expected, given that an appeals court overturned Spencer and granted bond to Robert McDonnell pending his appeal.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, leave the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 24 in Richmond. McDonnell and his wife Maureen pleaded not guilty to a 14-count criminal indictment from federal grand jury charging that the couple violated federal corruption laws.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, leave the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 24 in Richmond. McDonnell and his wife Maureen pleaded not guilty to a 14-count criminal indictment from federal grand jury charging that the couple violated federal corruption laws. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Check out 54 photos from the trial that resulted in sentences to federal prison for both the former governor and his wife.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
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Just before he sentenced Maureen McDonnell to a year and a day in federal prison, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer mused at length about how he struggled to understand the true nature of the woman before him.

Spencer seemed to criticize defense attorneys’ strategy of blaming her during the trial, referring to the tactic as “let’s throw mama under the bus” and calling it “curious.” He took aim, too, at those who wrote letters during Robert McDonnell’s sentencing that seemed to blame his wife for his misconduct. He termed it, “let’s throw mama off the train.”

But Spencer said he believed, indeed, that there was both a “good Maureen” — a loving mother and wife who did good works for military families — and an “other Maureen” — a tyrannical boss who made life miserable for those employed by her and her husband. He said he struggled to reconcile the two.

“It’s difficult to get to the heart of who Mrs. McDonnell truly is,” Spencer said.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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Before being sentenced to 366 days in prison, Maureen McDonnell apologized to Judge Spencer for reading from her notes, saying that public speaking “terrifies” her.

She first thanked the judge at length for the mercy he showed her husband, former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who last month received a sentence of two years. As she spoke, she teared up and paused for a long moment before pressing ahead. Maureen McDonnell described a letter she had written in which she asked that, if anyone should be made an example for the conduct described at trial, it should be her. (This letter was not submitted by the former governor’s lawyers as part of his public sentencing filings.)

She went on to apologize, first to her family, then to people close to her whom she said had suffered most due to her anxiety while first lady.

“My self-imposed anxiety spilled over to people who were closest to me, causing pain and misunderstandings that I never, ever intended,” she said.

Finally, she apologized to the people of Virginia, who she said had elected her husband and trusted in him to do good work.

“I am the one who opened the door” to businessman Jonnie R. Williams, she said. “I blame no one but myself.”

“Even as I have maintained my innocence, I have waited for a day like today” to express remorse, she said.

She said it is hard to imagine a punishment greater than what she has already experienced: “My marriage is broken. My family is hurting. My reputation is shattered.”

She concluded by asking the judge to sentence her to community service so she can assist others.

“The only thing I have not lost during this trial is my faith in my savior and my belief that my God is a God of second chances,” she said.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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From Matt Zapotosky:

Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in federal prison — a penalty less than what federal prosecutors had sought but one that will still put her behind bars briefly.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer said he struggled to understand the true nature of the former first lady — who seemed at times to be a loving mother and wife devoted to her family and other times a greedy and tyrannical woman who made others miserable.

“It’s difficult to get to the heart of who Mrs. McDonnell truly is,” Spencer said.

Spencer allowed Maureen McDonnell to remain free on bond while her appeal is pending.

McDonnell and her husband, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R), were convicted last year of conspiring to sell the influence of the governor’s office to Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for $177,000 in loans, vacations and luxury goods.

Keep reading.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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  • Rosalind S. Helderman
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Maureen McDonnell has just tearfully asked Judge James Spencer to show mercy in his sentence to her, telling Spencer that she maintains her legal innocence but is deeply remorseful for her mistakes.

“Your honor, the cry of my heart is that I am sorry,” she said.

Recalling Spencer’s words at her husband’s sentencing that she was the one who allowed the “serpent” — businessman Jonnie R. Williams — into the mansion, she said “that is true.”

“The venom from that snake has poisoned my marriage, has poisoned my family and has poisoned the commonwealth that I love,” she said.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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This May 5, 2011 photo  shows Mary-Shea Sutherland, center, executive assistant for Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, left, and Jonnie R. Williams Sr. during a reception at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. (Michaele White/ Office of the Governor of Virginia via AP)

This May 5, 2011 photo shows Mary-Shea Sutherland, center, executive assistant for Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, left, and Jonnie R. Williams Sr. during a reception at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. (Michaele White/ Office of the Governor of Virginia via AP)

The case against Maureen and her husband may not have been successful without the cooperation of Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the Richmond-area businessman to whom the couple was convicted of lending the prestige of the governor’s office.

Here’s some of what he said at trial:

On the Rolex –

Jonnie Williams testified that McDonnell texted him a picture — which shows the then-governor wearing the Rolex — in response to a message Williams said he sent. Williams said the photo response came from McDonnell: “it said G-O-V on my phone.”

On the $50,000 loan to Maureen McDonnell –

Williams testified that he discussed the $50,000 loan he gave Maureen McDonnell in 2011 with her husband and intended to do so before he wrote the check. “He’s the breadwinner in the house, and I’m not writing his wife checks without him knowing about it,” Williams said. He said the governor thanked him.

On a trip to Chatham Bars Inn –

Williams testified that a trip to Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod was strictly business, undertaken to get then-Gov. McDonnell interested in Anatabloc. He expensed the trip to his business: “I was working the entire weekend.”

On a New York City shopping spree –

Williams said Maureen McDonnell called to say she was coming to New York and “we could go shopping now.” He bought her $20,000 of high-end clothing. Williams said he never told Bob McDonnell about the purchases, but suggested the governor may have known because he was traveling with his wife.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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In this courtroom sketch at the federal corruption trial of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, center, and his wife, former first lady Maureen McDonnell, second from right, Judge James R. Spencer, left, presides during jury selection Monday, July 28, 2014, in Richmond, Va.

In this courtroom sketch at the federal corruption trial of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, center, and his wife, former first lady Maureen McDonnell, second from right, Judge James R. Spencer, left, presides during jury selection Monday, July 28, 2014, in Richmond, Va.

Who’s more responsible: Bob or Maureen? The point has been much debated, and soon, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer will — with his sentence — indicate what he thinks.

From Matt Zapotosky’s story in today’s paper:

“Without a doubt . . . the sentence that he gives to Maureen will reflect whom he views as more culpable,” said Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor who now does white collar criminal defense work at the Shulman Rogers firm. “The judge correctly will look at the conduct of each on their own merits, but where you have two defendants in the same case and the allegations involved the exact same conduct, the sentencing decision certainly will be a measure of his view of culpability.”

  • John Woodrow Cox
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In this Oct. 31, 2009 file photo, then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell hugs his wife, Maureen, during a rally in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

In this Oct. 31, 2009 file photo, then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell hugs his wife, Maureen, during a rally in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

What happens today may eventually be moot, then-Post columnist Robert McCartney explained a few a weeks ago:

Virginians rightly disgusted by the sleazy behavior of ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell need to brace for the possibility that he and his wife could eventually be fully cleared on appeal even though they were convicted of a total of 19 corruption felonies.

Such an outcome would be annoying yet plausible under federal law, which is fuzzy about some key points under which the McDonnells were convicted.

We won’t know for months, at least, whether the two go free. If they do, it would show that Bob McDonnell (R) was shrewd enough to stay barely on the right side of the law by avoiding doing too much to help the businessman who gave him the Rolex watch, Ferrari ride and other goodies.

It would also underline the need for Virginia to tighten its famously forgiving ethics laws. The state should not depend on the feds to prevent a governor from accepting fancy vacations and sweetheart loans from someone seeking favors like executive Jonnie Williams Sr.

The possibility of the McDonnells’ ultimate legal vindication was suggested by a federal appeals court ruling Monday, which said Bob McDonnell could postpone reporting to prison to begin his two-year sentence while his appeals were pending.

In making that decision, the court said the case presented a substantial legal question that might lead a higher court to throw out Bob McDonnell’s conviction or order a new trial. If that happened, then the verdicts against his wife, Maureen, could go, too.

Many legal experts — including Democrats unsympathetic to Bob McDonnell’s politics — have said the higher courts might overturn the verdicts on grounds that the law is too vague about what’s permitted.

Keep reading.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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  • John Woodrow Cox
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