Maureen McDonnell asked her stockbroker for advice on how she could hide ownership of her Star Scientific stock, a request he told investigators made him uncomfortable, her broker testified just now.
Broker John Piscitelli said the first lady approached him in August of 2011 about how she could hide her ownership of more than 6,500 shares of Star stock. She had spent a little more than $31,000 on 6,000 shares that June, when they were selling for $5.18 a share. On Aug. 2, after telling the broker she had “a couple thousand dollars extra,” she plowed nearly $2,000 more into the stock, whose share price had by then dropped by to $3.82.
“She seemed to want some shares to remain in her name, but not necessarily wanting them to show up in her name,” Piscitelli said. “She had heard about a blind trust. ‘Was that a possibility?’”
Piscitelli said he understood that the first lady wanted to do something to “not have the shares show up on her year-end statement.”
She was apparently referring to the annual financial disclosure form that her husband filed as an elected official. While state law at the time did not require elected officials to report gifts given to relatives, it did require disclosure of any major stock holdings immediate family members held in any single company.
Jurors were shown a letter that Piscitelli wrote to Maureen McDonnell dated Sept. 9, 2011, a few weeks after their phone conversation.
“I don’t have the answer about how to avoid shares remaining in your name without transferring them to another entity,” he wrote. “You had mentioned the use of a blind trust.”
The letter then went on to say how such a trust would require her to forfeit control of her stock holdings.
Prosecutor Michael Dry asked Piscitelli why he had written the letter, and the broker said that it was because his conversation with the first lady had been “going a lot of different places.”
Dry reminded the broker that he had offered a different explanation when testifying before a grand jury prior to trial. Piscitelli had told grand jurors that he wrote the letter, in part, because Maureen McDonnell’s request had made him “uncomfortable” and that he wanted to document the fact that it was the first lady who had asked about a blind trust.
Had Piscitelli, indeed, been uncomfortable?
“There are different levels of discomfort,” Piscitelli said. He said he was more “puzzled” than anything else, but was also confident that as the McDonnells complied with state disclosure requirements, “they would do what is right and legal.”
Dry pushed: “As you sit here today, did the request make you uncomfortable?”
“Yes,” the broker said.