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Updates: Day 12 of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 12, 2014
Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell leaves the federal courthouse in Richmond on Monday as the federal corruption trial of McDonnell and former first lady Maureen McDonnell continues into its third week. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell leaves the federal courthouse in Richmond on Monday as the federal corruption trial of McDonnell and former first lady Maureen McDonnell continues into its third week. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, are battling a 14-count public corruption indictment that alleges they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to a Richmond area businessman, and in exchange, the businessman lavished them with gifts and money. Jurors on Tuesday resumed hearing testimony from witnesses during a trial in federal court in Richmond.

 Interactive: McDonnell gifts list | Twitter: Latest | Previous days: The trial | Photos Indictment

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer ended the proceedings Tuesday with a stern reminder for jurors.

Don’t talk about the case among yourselves or with others. Don’t read or listen to anything about the case. Don’t do any outside research. And don’t form an opinion before both sides are done presenting.

The warning came on a day that started with Spencer excusing a juror for reasons he did not explain. He did not mention that in his closing remarks.

“I’m simply repeating what I told you earlier, but I want you to listen,” Spencer told the panel, referencing the instructions he gave them at the outset of the case.

Spencer said he wants to ensure that both sides get a “fair trial,” and said, “We can only get a trial from a jury that’s unbiased, and impartial, and listens to the instructions of the court.”

The proceedings resume at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Under direct examination, Virginia Beach Mayor William Sessoms Jr. has just explained a series of documents outlining changes to a loan extended to Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2011 and 2012.

Sessoms, who is also the president of Townebank, said that in 2011, the terms of a loan of more than $720,000 extended to McDonnell and his sister on a beachfront property in his city were changed with the expiration of a five-year loan that had been in place. He said McDonnell had been searching for long-term, low-interest financing for the property but was unable to secure it because the property’s value had dropped and so it could not support the kind of loan he wanted.

In 2011, the bank renewed the loan for one year at 2.75 percent. Sessoms testified that at the end of the year, the bank had the option to renew the loan, refinance it or call the loan, meaning McDonnell and his sister would have immediately been on the hook for the entire sum of the loan.

In 2012, as McDonnell sought to renew the loan, he submitted a personal financial statement to the bank. On that document, Sessoms testified that McDonnell listed his total liabilities as $2,075,000. That included $2,061,000 in real estate debt, $4,000 borrowed against a life insurance policy and $10,000 in credit card or accounts payable.

McDonnell left blank a series of lines on the personal financial statement for other kinds of liabilities. Sessoms confirmed that McDonnell did not list any loan from Jonnie Williams Sr. or Starwood Trust, the entity from which Williams loaned money to Maureen McDonnell and a small real estate partnership held by McDonnell and his sister.

This is the origin of one of two charges lodged against McDonnell that he lied on financial documents.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell and his sister incurred 47 late fees over a roughly four-year period on loans they took out to buy rental properties in Virginia Beach, a bank president testified Tuesday.

William Sessoms, the Virginia Beach mayor and president of TowneBank Financial Services Group, testified that the former governor and his wife incurred the fees from 2009 to some time in 2013 on two loans they took out for the properties years earlier. Prosecutors allege that during a portion of that period, the governor and his wife sought loans from Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and others, in part to offset losses from the rental properties.

While the fees might have been small — the only example prosecutors flashed in court was roughly $28 — the testimony from Sessoms further bolsters prosecutors’ contention that the McDonnells’ financial trouble led them to corruptly seek Williams’s money.

Sessoms also testified that the McDonnells’ intent when they bought the properties was for the rent to cover the mortgages. That counters defense attorneys’ suggestions that the homes were mainly for family use, and Robert McDonnell and his sister were willing to tolerate regular losses.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

In a day of particularly eclectic testimony at the Bob and Maureen McDonnell federal corruption trial, a new notable name has taken the stand: William Sessoms Jr.

Sessoms is the mayor of Virginia Beach. He’s also the president of Townebank and he’s on the stand as prosecutors begin to present evidence to jurors related to charges that the McDonnells lied on financial documents by omitting reference to loans they received from Jonnie Williams.

So far, Sessoms has described his history with the McDonnells, which dates to the late 1980s, when he was a new member of the Virginia Beach City Council and Bob McDonnell was running for the House of Delegates. He described himself as a personal friend of the McDonnells, who had socialized with the couple.

He has also described loans the bank made to Bob McDonnell and his sister when they purchased two Virginia Beach homes as investment properties. The first loan was a home equity line of credit for $249,999 in 2005 for the first property. The second, he testified, was a loan for $722,550 for the second home that was amortized over 30 years but had a call date of just five years.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

On cross examination, Donnie Williams agreed with a lawyer for Maureen McDonnell that the first lady had offered to pay for work performed at her house several times. Lawyer Stephen Hauss showed Williams notes from a law enforcement interview in which he apparently told investigators that McDonnell offered to pay every time they spoke.

“It wasn’t every time,” Williams insisted on the witness stand, but agreed she had offered to pay.

Hauss then showed Williams the response text message from Maureen McDonnell in December 2012 to Williams’s own note indicating that his brother Jonnie Williams was paying for a replacement cover for the couple’s Jacuzzi.

“OMG! I did not expect him to do that. Bob never let me get it replaced until it got this embarrassingly bad and I just appreciated your help in figuring how I do it! Thanks Donnie!”

Hauss also pressed Williams: Isn’t it the case that Williams does not have a contractor’s license and generally only performs work for friends and family? Hauss’s point was to suggest that the Williamses were, in fact, friends with the first couple. To press the point, he showed Donnie Williams a text message from Maureen McDonnell in December 2012 in which she invited him and his wife to a Christmas party at the governor’s mansion.

But during a brief redirect examination, Williams testified that he did not, in fact, attend that party.

Prosecutor David Harbach asked Williams whether, at the time he went over to the McDonnells’ home, did he consider himself a personal friend of the couple? No, he answered. So why did he do the work?

“Jonnie asked me to stop by,” he said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

At some point after the investigation became public, Maureen McDonnell approached Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s brother with a box, the brother testified Tuesday. Inside, he said, were a note and dresses — bought, unbeknownst to him, by his brother on a shopping trip in New York City with the first lady about two years earlier.

“She said to get ‘em to [Jonnie Williams's daughter] so maybe she can auction ‘em off for charity,” Donnie Williams testified. “She was nervous.”

The episode is key, because prosecutors have alleged that Maureen McDonnell was trying to rewrite history — and obstruct their investigation — in returning the dresses that Jonnie Williams had bought her in New York. Donnie Williams testified that he could tell that something was amiss with Maureen McDonnell from “just the tone of her voice, and she was talking fast.”

And, importantly, Donnie Williams said Maureen McDonnell broached the subject of the federal investigation, which at that point threatened to envelop her, her husband and Jonnie Williams.

“She was upset and she said she was going to call the FBI agent up and tell him Jonnie’s a generous person and they shouldn’t be doing this,” Donnie Williams testified.

He said he advised the the first lady: “You need to talk to your attorney before you talk to one of the FBI agents about something.”

“It just didn’t make any sense,” Donnie Williams testified.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Only after the investigation into her and her husband’s relationship with Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. became public did then-first lady Maureen McDonnell ask the businessman’s handyman brother to bill her for work he had done on her house, the brother testified Tuesday.

Donnie Williams said that at that point, Maureen McDonnell approached him about sending her an invoice. Williams said he “felt uncomfortable” with the first lady’s request because he was unsure of the tax and permit implications of the work he had done.

“She said she needed a record of it,” Donnie Williams testified.

That record, though, was hardly a thorough one. Donnie Williams testified that he seriously undercharged the first lady — for example, billing only $150 in labor costs for deck staining that likely cost thrice as much — and put little thought into the price structure he created. The total bill, he testified, was $1,685.50.

“I just made it up in a couple minutes,” he testified. “I wanted to get it over to her and get it over with.”

And Williams said he stalled, too, on cashing the check Maureen McDonnell ultimately wrote him. He said the first lady persisted, though, and his brother helped talk him into it.

“I wasn’t even going to cash it,” he testified. “I didn’t even want anything to do with any of this mess.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Donnie Williams, Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s handyman brother, testified Tuesday that he once talked directly to Robert F. McDonnell about the maintenance work he was doing at the governor’s home, but the governor did not offer to pay for his services, nor did he inquire about cost.

Donnie Williams testified that he and McDonnell talked in particular about air conditioning that was not working properly — one of many things the handyman fixed, or arranged to have fixed, for the governor and his wife, Maureen. The assertion is important, as it links the governor himself to a favor stemming from a relationship with Jonnie Williams.

Donnie Williams testified that he went to the McDonnells’ home in suburban Richmond 10 to 12 times, mostly coordinating with Maureen McDonnell about what needed to be done. And the governor’s wife, too, never offered to pay, or asked about costs — at least not until it became public that she and her husband were under investigation.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Prosecutors have now called to the stand Donnie O. Williams, a retired sheriff’s deputy who now works as a handyman and is the brother of Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Donnie Williams has testified that in fall 2012, his brother asked him to go by Bob and Maureen McDonnell’s home in the Richmond suburbs to check out some work that Maureen McDonnell had indicated she needed performed.

Over the course of months, Donnie Williams testified that he was given a key to the McDonnell’s home and performed a series of tasks at Maureen McDonnell’s request. Those included replacing a portion of a hardwood floor that had been damaged by a leak, replacing the cover on a Jacuzzi hot tub, replacing bushes in front and behind the home, seeding the couple’s lawn and replacing some latticework on an outdoor fence. He said four people worked at one time on the McDonnell’s lawn. At another point, two people spent one day and then three people spent a second day staining the couple’s hardwood floor.

Regarding the hot tub cover, Williams said he had to take an old cover from the McDonnell’s home to a pool company he knew in Fredericksburg so that measurements could be taken. “I said to [Jonnie], what’s going on? Are you paying for it or do you want me to bill them?” Williams testified.

Donnie Williams said his brother indicated that he would pay.

And indeed, prosecutor David Harbarch showed Williams a series of text messages he exchanged with Maureen McDonnell about the pool cover.

“Were you able to get the model number of the Jacuzzi” she wrote to him on Dec. 12, 2012.

“Spa cover will be here in three weeks,” he wrote back.

“That’s terrific! Do I need to give you a credit card,” Maureen McDonnell responded.

“No. Jonnie’s paying for it,” Donnie Williams texted back on Dec. 14, 2012.

Harbarch then asked: Did Maureen McDonnell ever ask for an invoice for the work prior to the investigation becoming public?

No, Williams responded.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

A former Virginia State Police investigator who sat in on the February 2013 interview with Maureen McDonnell testified Tuesday that he and a colleague asked the first lady questions about a broad range of topics — including her relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr., her appearances at various Star Scientific events and an August 2011 lunch at the governor’s mansion that prosecutors say helped Williams promote Anatabloc.

They also asked, the investigator said, about a $15,000 check Williams had written to cover the catering at the wedding of one of Maureen McDonnell’s daughter’s, and about a $50,000 check written from Williams’s trust to the first lady herself.

James R. Lyons, who has since left the state police for work in a sheriff’s office elsewhere, testified that he played a minor role in the interview. He said he was not involved in any investigation into the McDonnells, Williams or even food theft at the governor’s mansion before the interview, nor did he have any involvement after.

But Lyons’s account largely corroborated that of his state police counterpart, who testified just minutes ago of what he claimed were Maureen McDonnell’s repeated lies during the meeting. Lyons testified that the first lady claimed her husband had met Williams after leaving the Army many years ago and going to work for American Hospital Supply, where Williams was a salesman. Lyons also testified that the first lady claimed to have a “loan agreement” with Williams and purported to be “making payments on that loan.”

Prosecutors allege that none of those claims were true.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

In response to questions from Bob McDonnell’s defense attorney John Brownlee, Virginia State Police Special Agent Charles Hagan has acknowledged that law enforcement took steps as part of their investigation that jurors might find unpleasantly aggressive.

For instance, Hagan agreed that he at some point during the investigation followed Chris Young, the husband of the governor’s daughter Cailin. (Brownlee referred to the action as “tailing” Young, following him to his place of employment. Hagan used the phrase “solo surveillance.”)

He agreed also that at various points in time, a first sergeant on the governor’s executive protection unit, Marc Wiley, was volunteering information about the governor’s activities. Hagan insisted that he did not ask Wiley for that kind of assistance but that he provided it voluntarily. Never, Hagan said, did he ask Wiley or other EPU officers to eavesdrop on the governor, as Brownlee repeatedly asked.

Brownlee asked whether Hagan asked Wiley to get a new phone around the time of the investigation. After some back and forth, he agreed that Wiley had informed him over e-mail that he had just purchased a new phone but said he did not ask the state police officer to purchase it.

On a brief redirect examination of Hagan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber teased out one more bit of the investigation timeline that’s never before been public: At the time that Hagan interviewed Maureen McDonnell in February 2013, he agreed that there was no federal grand jury investigating Bob and Maureen McDonnell for public corruption. There was, however, a state grand jury that had been convened to investigate the couple for public corruption.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

When Virginia State Police and FBI agents interviewed Maureen McDonnell in February 2013, they did not offer her a lawyer or advise her of her right to remain silent, one of the agents who was there testified Tuesday. They also did not tell her she was under investigation, the agent said.

The agent, Charles Hagan of the Virginia State Police, said the interview with first lady “wasn’t custodial,” and thus he and the others felt no obligation to provide her Miranda warnings. The meeting, though, would prove key to the public corruption case against her and her husband because — by prosecutors’ account — Maureen McDonnell lied repeatedly to the investigators.

Responding to questions from Maureen McDonnell defense attorney William Burck, Hagan described how the first lady stretched the truth on various fronts. Hagan said Maureen McDonnell told him her husband had met businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. many years ago, when they both worked at a company called American Hospital Supply. He said Maureen McDonnell claimed to have signed a written contract with Williams about a $50,000 loan. And he said the first lady purported to be making periodic payments on the loan.

All of those assertions, Hagan testified, were lies.

Hagan acknowledged at Burck’s questioning, though, that his notes from the interview with Maureen McDonnell did not precisely reflect his memory of it. He testified, for example, that the notes merely reference a “contract,” not a written one. He testified they do not include the phrase “periodic payments,” only the words “paying back.” And of the length of the friendship between Williams and the McDonnell family, Hagan said his notes simply refer to the businessman as a McDonnell “family friend.” ​

It seems that Burck will dispute Hagan’s account of the meeting and argue to jurors that he either does not remember or has mischaracterized what the first lady actually said. Particularly of American Hospital Supply, Burck asked Hagan whether Maureen McDonnell had said merely that her husband and Williams had “overlapped” in their employment there. Hagan testified that that was not the way he recalled it.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

How, exactly, the investigation against Bob and Maureen McDonnell developed is becoming more and more clear as Maureen McDonnell’s attorney William Burck cross-examines Virginia State Police Special Agent Charles Hagan.

Hagan has testified that law enforcement quickly became suspicious in 2012 that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. may have committed securities fraud under federal law. In July 2012, the U.S. attorney’s office initiated a federal grand jury investigation inTO Williams’s activities.

Separately, a state grand jury was convened to investigated whether then-Gov. Bob McDonnell had violated Virginia laws regarding annual financial and gift disclosures.

In January 2013, Hagan and FBI Agent Tyler Kennedy arrived unannounced at Williams’s Florida condo. In response to questions, Hagan acknowledged that Kennedy took the lead during that interview. He also gave Williams a grand jury subpoena seeking records related to Star Scientific. Burck’s point is to try to demonstrate to jurors that the first interview with Williams was primarily related to a probe of Williams himself.

Indeed, Hagan acknowledged that he provided Williams with no subpoena from the state grand jury then investigating the McDonnells. And he provided a slightly different account than Williams did last week of how it happened that Williams was asked to wear a wire.

When he was on the witness stand, Williams testified that he ended the interview with law enforcement when he was asked to wear a wire during meetings with the governor. Hagan testified that the request came only after the interview had concluded. He said Williams expressed a desire to contact his lawyers and to generally cooperate in the investigation.

Hagan said he asked Williams if that would include voluntarily recording conversations. He said he never mentioned the governor’s name, though he now acknowledges that he did indeed mean that Williams might potentially be asked to record conversations with McDonnell.

“It was more, ‘While you’re talking to your lawyers and you’re wanting to cooperate, consider this,’ ” Hagan said.

He acknowledged that his notes from the interview make no reference to asking Williams to wear a wire. Burck then asked Hagan: Isn’t it true that he only revealed to prosecutors that this conversation had taken place after the trial began?

But prosecutors objected to the question, Judge James R. Spencer sustained the objection and the cross examination moved on.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Back from lunch at the McDonnell trial, State Police Special Agent Charles Hagan testified that as far back as May 2012, he was considering using Jonnie R. Williams Sr. — then believed to have committed securities fraud — to pursue public corruption charges against the Virginia governor and his wife.

Talking about notes he made for a May 23, 2012, briefing with his bosses, Hagan testified that at that point, his investigation had three possible targets: Williams, the McDonnells and the chef at the governor’s mansion.

Hagan said there were “indications” that Williams had committed securities fraud, based on some documents he and another investigator had reviewed, and he had “suspicions” that the businessman had committed fraud in securing financing for his company. He said he also had some documents indicating possible wrongdoing on the part of the McDonnells — specifically, a $15,000 check from Williams to cover catering at their daughter’s wedding and a $50,000 check from Williams to Maureen for reasons he did not then understand.

Hagan said he was curious about the reporting of the checks, and he knew he would need an explanation “down the road” of what the $50,000 was for — whether it was a loan, a gift or even a speaking fee stemming from an appearance the governor’s wife made in Florida to promote Anatabloc. Even though his knowledge was limited, he said he envisioned a scenario where Williams would be providing him key information about the couple.

“There was a lot more work to be done,” he said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

This morning, VCU doctor George Vetrovec testified that Jonnie Williams told him they were going to go the governor’s mansion because the governor’s wife made great cookies.

We have it on good authority that Williams sure liked the cookies at the executive mansion. But they weren’t baked by Maureen McDonnell. They came courtesy of Todd Schneider, the same executive chef whose alleged food embezzlement set off the chain of events that led to Bob and Maureen McDonnell being charged with federal crimes.

In a December interview, Schneider told The Washington Post that Williams had a particular fondness for his oatmeal raisin cookies. So whenever Williams came by the mansion, Maureen McDonnell would ask him to bake up a batch.

“Jonnie liked certain things,” Schneider said then, “and I had to do what he wanted.”

  • Ian Shapira
  • ·


Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell is seen behind the wheel of Jonnie Williams’s Ferrari. (U.S. District Court trial exhibits)

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Now on the stand is Virginia State Police Special Agent Charles Hagan, testifying about how the investigation into Bob and Maureen McDonnell began and about a key interview he conducted with the then-first lady in February 2013. That interview is key to the prosecution’s allegation that Maureen McDonnell obstructed justice upon learning of the probe.

Hagan testified that the investigation began on a different matter: Allegations that Todd Schneider, the executive chef of the governor’s mansion, was stealing food. As part of that investigation, he said investigators learned that Williams had paid $15,000 for the catering at the wedding of the governor’s daughter and $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell.

Hagan said a parallel investigation was opened into whether Jonnie R. Williams Sr. had committed securities fraud. There were at various times, he said, a state grand jury investigating the chef case, a federal grand jury investigating Williams and then a federal grand jury investigating the McDonnells.

In February 2013, he said he asked to interview the first lady. He said he wanted to speak with her about claims made by Schneider that she had authorized the chef to engage in a bartering system, in which he could take food from the mansion for use in his private catering business with her approval. Hagan said he also wanted to hear from her about the Williams’s checks.

He said he took another agent with him to the meeting, a veteran state police officer who was present merely to observe. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber asked Hagan, do you customarily tell people you are preparing to interview all of the topics of the interview?

“No, we do not,” he said, describing how police officers normally just knock on a person’s door and tell them they have a few questions. “We do that so we don’t give someone the chance to think about what they’re going to say?” Hagan said.

Other than a lawyer, Aber asked if police generally allow people to “take along other folk” who want to attend? This was a reference to chief of staff Martin Kent’s testimony that he was told by a state police officer that he was not allowed to sit in on the session. Hagan agreed that police generally do not allow other people to sit in on interviews, fearing their presence could affect the answers of witnesses.

Later, Hagan testified that at no time during the interview did Maureen McDonnell request a lawyer.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

A former director of the Va. governor’s mansion who worked in administrations that predated McDonnell’s testified Tuesday that events at the state residence, at least when she worked there, had to have some connection to the governor’s business — a minor blow that defense attorneys had been hoping to avoid.

Amy Bridge, who served as the mansion director under former Virginia governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, testified that an event at the mansion “had to be applicable to their job, in their roles.” That is important because prosecutors must prove that then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell performed “official acts” on behalf of Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for his largess, and they have alleged that various mansion events to which Williams was invited or allowed to shape constitute such acts.

Defense attorneys had sought to block Bridge’s testimony, arguing that she knew nothing about the specific facts having to do with McDonnell. That effort was unsuccessful.

Bridge also testified that events at the mansion held for businesses generally were reserved for when large companies were moving into Virginia, or when Virginia leaders were trying to woo large companies to move into the state. That assertion might further convince jurors that Williams’s company, Star Scientific, was given preferential treatment by McDonnell.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Under cross examination from Maureen McDonnell defense attorney Heather Martin, Virginia Commonwealth University cardiologist George Vetrovec said he and other doctors were considering studies of Anatabloc — but that had nothing to do with influence or pressure from the first lady.

Vetrovec testified that even when the first lady introduced him to Steven Spielberg at an October 2011 event at the governor’s mansion, she did so only at the request of Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Vetrovec said Maureen McDonnell did not seem to know who he, Vetrovec, was.

Vetrovec said he was loosely aware of the first lady’s presence at other Anatabloc-centric events, but he did not speak to her at those, and his interest in studying Anatabloc had nothing to do with her promotion of the supplement.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Under questioning from defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center cardiologist George Vetrovec said he believed that there was a reason other than Jonnie R. Williams Sr. that he was invited to a 2012 health-care leaders reception at the governor’s mansion.

He said he believed at the time that his name was added to the guest list because he was on the VCU Health System’s board.

The assertion, while deep in the weeds of the case, is important to the defense for Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. Prosecutors have contended that because of his connections with the first lady, in particular, Jonnie Williams was allowed to invite 25 people to the reception, including several affiliated with his company. Others have testified that some of those invitees were not health-care leaders — suggesting that Williams’s influence was improper.

But Vetrovec offered another reason his name might have been added to the list. And he said when he was at the event, he talked with the governor only about broad budget issues, and not the product Williams’s company wanted studied.

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