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Updates: Day 13 of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 13, 2014
Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell is surrounded by media after he left the federal courthouse in Richmond on Monday. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown).

Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell is surrounded by media after he left the federal courthouse in Richmond on Monday. (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 Wednesday 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

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Special Agent David Hulser just told the jury a bit more about what his investigation revealed about the Rolex watch businessman Jonnie Williams says he purchased at Maureen McDonnell’s request. She apparently gave the watch to her husband for Christmas in 2011.

First, he showed jurors Williams’s credit card bill, showing a $6,500 charge at Traditional Jewelers in Malibu, Calif., on Aug. 14, 2011. The date matches Williams’s account in which he told jurors he had purchased the timepiece on a trip to California.

Then, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer asked Hulser if he retrieved any photographs of Bob McDonnell wearing the watch when he served a subpoena on the couple. He responded affirmatively and displayed a series of photos  the former first lady had turned over.

In one, Bob McDonnell is standing in a plaid shirt in front of a Christmas tree, holding up his arm, with the watch around his wrist. Other photographs showed McDonnell in what appeared to be a vehicle and holding up his wrist.

One of those pictures matched the photograph found on Williams’s phone. He testified that he received that photo Dec. 24, 2012, after conversing with the governor via texts and taunting him. He bragged that the mansion’s chef, instead of cooking for the McDonnells, was preparing Christmas Eve dinner for him. Williams said the picture of the governor wearing the watch was sent in response to those texts and came from the governor’s phone.

Faulconer asked Hulser about the chef texts: Were there any phone toll records reflecting them? He replied negatively.

“Sitting here today, can you tell exactly how that photo of Mr. McDonnell got to Mr. Williams?” Faulconer asked.

“I cannot,” Hulser responded.

As the clock hit 5:30 p.m., Judge James R. Spencer called a halt to the proceedings for the day.

“I know it may not seem like it, but we are making progress. Let me tell you,” Spencer told jurors.

Court will resume Thursday at 9:45 a.m., when the prosecution is expected to rest its case.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Jurors have already heard testimony about Maureen McDonnell selling her stock in Star Scientific in December 2011 and then repurchasing in January 2012. Stock broker John Piscitelli testified that she wanted the shares out of her name before the year ended to avoid state financial disclosure requirements. The request, he said, made him uncomfortable.

With Special Agent David Hulser on the stand, jurors learned a bit more.

Piscitelli indicated that he generally sells stock within a day of receiving verbal authorization to do so. Maureen McDonnell’s shares were sold Dec. 20, 2011.

On Dec. 19, 2011, she spoke to Piscitelli at 1:20 p.m.

From 1:15 p.m. to 1:20 p.m., phone records show Maureen and Bob McDonnell spoke by cellphone.

At 1:33 p.m. Maureen McDonnell called Jonnie Williams.

At 3:37, she called her husband again. At 4:03 p.m., she placed a second call to Piscitelli

The timeline would further suggest that Bob McDonnell may have been aware of the transaction.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

On Aug. 1, 2011, Jonnie Williams met with Virginia health department officials and a Virginia Commonwealth University doctor at the governor’s mansion. Maureen McDonnell also sat in on those meetings — something jurors heard several times during earlier testimony.

Now FBI Special Agent David Hulser brings one new piece of information about that day:

Just after Williams arrived at the governor’s mansion that morning, Maureen and Bob McDonnell spoke by phone for four minutes. At the conclusion of the meeting with the health officials, McDonnell engaged in another brief phone call with his wife.

Maureen McDonnell set a calendar entry for the mansion event to mark the launch of Williams’s product Anatabloc about 15 minutes after those meetings concluded.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

How did prosecutors get all those photos of Bob McDonnell in the Ferrari?

It appears, from toll records presented by FBI Special Agent David Hulser, that Maureen McDonnell texted Williams repeatedly while she and her husband were driving home from Smith Mountain Lake in Williams’s Ferrari on July 31, 2012.

At 11:29 p.m., after returning home from the trip, Bob McDonnell e-mailed Secretary of Health Bill Hazel and asked him to send a deputy to a meeting with Williams and Maureen McDonnell at the governor’s mansion the next day.

Jurors were left to contemplate whether that meeting would’ve happened had not Maureen McDonnell texted Williams as her husband sat next to her in the businessman’s luxury sports car.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Before Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave her a $50,000 check, the balance of Maureen McDonnell’s bank account stood at just under $4,800.

After it swelled, she started paying bills, records analyzed by an FBI agent show.

Maureen McDonnell paid Citicard, she paid Macy’s, and she paid American Express, the records show. She wrote a check to the real estate company her husband co-owned with his sister, and she wrote a $9,900 check to Bank of America to pay debt on a credit card in her husband’s name.

The revelation is interesting because it shows some of the McDonnells’ financial desperation and how Williams’s contribution alleviated it.

Records show that from January 2011 to June 2011, the McDonnells made $178,631 in deposits to their bank account and withdrew $175,476. Without Williams’s giving, the couple would have been deeper in the red, records show.

The records also reveal how former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell benefited from the $50,000 Williams gave to his wife. That could prove useful for prosecutors attempting to discredit the notion that Maureen McDonnell kept her husband in the dark.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Using the particular timing of phone calls, texts and visitors checking in at the governor’s mansion, prosecutors are methodically building their case against Robert F. McDonnell, who they accuse of conspiring, along with his wife, to solicit businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s largess.

Take, for example, May 23, 2011 — the date prosecutors say Williams dropped off a $50,000 check and a $15,000 check at the governor’s mansion. The governor’s schedule that day shows he had budgeted more than an hour for “private work time” at about the time Williams showed up. Afterward, records show the governor traveled with his wife (phone records put them in the same location), and she was sending texts to the businessman.

On May 29, 2011, receipts show the governor was golfing with his future son-in-law on Williams’s tab at the exclusive Kinloch Golf Club from 1:39 p.m. to 8:59 p.m. About fifteen minutes after that, the records show the governor called Williams, and a short time later, called his wife. That was the first call the two men ever exchanged, FBI Special Agent David Hulser testified.

A few days later, the timing grows more curious.

On June 1, the day Maureen McDonnell is said to have purchased Star Scientific stock, phone records show she called her broker at 9:55 a.m., and her husband at 10:48 a.m.

On June 4, she called her broker at 11:27 a.m., and her husband at 11:28 a.m., records show. The timing of the calls could prove that the governor knew about the stock purchase. A spokesman has said previously that Maureen McDonnell did not tell her husband.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

FBI Special Agent David Hulser is now presenting charts to the jury that stack up various e-mails against a calendar to illustrate a timeline of key events in the investigation. It included scheduling information for the governor and first lady, as well as phone records for the two and businessman Jonnie Williams.

It’s a bit complex, but the timing outlined for jurors could be problematic for the McDonnells as they attempt to persuade the jury that they were not conspiring with one another in regards to Williams.

Hulser begins with spring 2011.

On April 29, 2011, documents show that Bob and Maureen McDonnell dined with Williams and his wife Celeste at the governor’s mansion.

On May 1, 2011, Maureen McDonnell was forwarded an e-mail with a blog post that praised Star Scientific (Williams’ dietary supplement company) and its product. She quickly forwarded that message to her husband, adding the subject line “Homerun Potential.”

About an hour later, Maureen McDonnell e-mailed Celeste Williams two notes, each describing the beach house properties they owned and the troubles they had making payments on them. Later that afternoon, Bob McDonnell texted his sister to ask if she could speak with him by phone that evening to discuss loan options on those properties.

Shortly after, Maureen McDonnell spoke to Williams for 41 minutes.

That same day, Bob McDonnell e-mailed his daughter Cailin and requested that she provide him with a final head count for her wedding so he could make the final payment. Williams ended up paying the $15,000 catering bill at that wedding.

The following day — May 2, 2011 — mansion logs show that Williams visited Maureen McDonnell from 9:24 to 11:25 a.m. During that time, Maureen McDonnell placed a series of phone calls, each under a minute, which suggests that intended recipients did not pick up. She had called Michael Uncapher, who WAS then married to the governor’s sister and the manager of the beach properties. She also called her husband and his sister.

Finally, at 10:44 a.m., Uncapher called Maureen McDonnell and they spoke for 13 minutes. That’s the day, Uncapher testified, that Maureen McDonnell put him on the phone with Williams and for the first time broached the idea that the businessman might assist MoBo Real Estate Partners monetarily with its debts. MoBo is the small partnership owned by McDonnell and his sister in charge of managing the properties.

Maureen McDonnell and Williams spoke several more times that day. Finally, at 10:37 p.m., Bob McDonnell called his sister. They spoke for 84 minutes.

Finally, Hulser showed jurors a document they had seen before: An e-mail from McDonnell’s assistant Pam Watts to Secretary of Health Bill Hazel containing a forwarded article about Star Scientific. It was sent May 5, 2011.

The article matched the one Maureen McDonnell had sent to her husband days earlier with the subject line: “Homerun Potential.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

From April 2011 to February 2013, former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell and her husband spoke on the phone more often than she and Jonnie R. Williams Sr. ever did, according to phone records and the testimony of an FBI agent.

That fact is important because it undercuts defense attorneys’ assertion that Maureen and Robert F. McDonnell were mired in a marriage so broken that they could not conspire together to seek Williams’s largess. It also throws cold water on the idea that the governor’s wife was inappropriately seeking Williams’s attention.

According to special agent David Hulser — who reviewed phone records in the case — McDonnell and his wife exchanged 130 calls more than 1 minute in length between April 2011 and the end of the year. During the same period, Hulser said, Maureen McDonnell and Williams exchanged 94 calls.

The pattern did not abate as time passed. From January 2012 to February 2013, the McDonnells exchanged 178 calls, Hulser testified. During the same period, Maureen McDonnell and Williams exchanged just 73 calls.

To be sure, Maureen McDonnell and Williams appeared to have texted and called one another frequently, according to records available from both Verizon and AT&T. But because the data is limited in its scope, comparing the number of text messages the first lady sent to her husband as opposed to Williams is nearly impossible. Hulser testified, for example, that Maureen McDonnell and Williams exchanged 733 texts in 2011 and 179 texts the following year into 2013. But he said he could not provide comparable numbers for the governor and his wife because those text records were not retained.

Hulser did, though, provide a snapshot of the governor’s text and phone contact with Williams. In 2011, he said, the men exchanged one call longer than a minute and five texts. The next year, they exchanged nine calls longer than a minute and 22 texts, Hulser testified.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Maureen McDonnell first spoke on the phone April 11, 2011 — just days before the businessman took her on a New York City shopping trip and bought her nearly $20,000 worth of designer apparel, an FBI agent testified Wednesday.

To be sure, earlier testimony indicated that the governor’s wife and the businessman had met more than a year earlier at a New York City hotel. But the FBI agent, David Hulser, said they first exchanged texts and calls a few nights before the trip.

The testimony is important because it helps undermine the notion that Williams was a longtime friend before he started lavishing the first lady and her husband with loans, vacations and luxury goods.

It also discredits what investigators claim Maureen McDonnell told them in a February 2013 interview — that her husband had met Williams at a function hosted by an employer they shared years ago. The businessman was a close family friend.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

In January 2010, when Robert F. McDonnell became governor of Virginia, he and his wife Maureen were carrying $74,904 in credit card debt, an FBI agent testified Wednesday. By September, that figure had crept higher than $90,000, he testified.

The figures, which FBI Special Agent David Hulser presented in a chart, present a dramatic illustration of the financial woes the governor and his wife were facing — woes which prosecutors say led them to seek the largess of Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

By January 2011, though, the McDonnells’ credit card debt had been reduced to about $30,000. Hulser said the debt declined after they received tens of thousands of dollars in cash from life insurance payments and a family trust.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

In 2009, the rental properties Robert F. McDonnell owned with his sister in Virginia Beach lost more than $43,000, an FBI agent testified Wednesday. The following year, the properties lost more than $40,000, the agent said.

To help knit together the prosecutors’ case, Special Agent David Hulser is providing jurors with a stark and unflattering portrait of the McDonnells’ troubled finances.

To emphasize his points, prosecutors displayed charts Hulser had prepared showing the properties’ income and expenses. The picture was not a good one.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

FBI Special Agent David Hulser has just testified that in January 2010, the month Bob McDonnell took office as governor, he and his wife Maureen had seven credit cards that carried a balance of nearly $75,000 on them collectively.

The evidence came as Hulser, who is providing summary evidence for the prosecution, explained that he examined the couple’s debt in the context of Maureen McDonnell’s 2009 e-mail to her husband’s lawyer that said the couple was broke and had “an unconscionable amount of credit card debt.” The goal of this line of questioning was to show that Maureen McDonnell’s statement was accurate.

According to a chart prepared by Hulser, Robert McDonnell held four credit cards whose balances totaled $41,388.12. Maureen McDonnell held three cards whose balances totaled $33,531.99. Together, balances on all seven cards totaled $74,904.11.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

As he began his testimony, FBI Special Agent David Hulser outlined the magnitude of the McDonnell investigation, saying he and seven other investigators from the FBI, Virginia State Police and IRS conducted 300 interviews and reviewed almost 3.5 million pages of documents.

Some, of course, were duplicates, or related mainly to tangential investigations, he said.

But he said investigators left few stones unturned, subpoenaing cellphone and text records, e-mails and a host of financial documents.

He said they did not use wire taps or record any phone calls, but they retrieved records from three cellphones the McDonnells used (two for the governor and one for his wife) and Jonnie R. Williams’s mobile.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

It appears prosecutors are moving to wrap up their case and are now presenting what is often known as their “summation witness.”

David Hulser, a special agent with the FBI, has now taken the stand.

Hulser will likely walk jurors through the entire investigation and attempt to tie the case together before prosecutors rest their case and turn proceedings over to the defense.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

As prosecutors head into the final phases of their case against Bob and Maureen McDonnell, they have just presented two experts on phone records in quick succession to the jury.

First, George Floyd, who works for Verizon, talked about producing phone records from the former governor and first lady’s cellphones in response to a federal subpoena in April 2013. The two, he confirmed, were Verizon customers. The company keeps records that list the time, date and duration of calls but include no information about their content, for three to five years.

Floyd said that Verizon retains records about who sends and receives text messages for a year but the content of those messages is not retained more than three to five days. After that time, the message is only retrievable if a user has not deleted it from their personal device.

In response to questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber, Floyd indicated that Verizon does not keep any records of messages sent through Apple’s iMessage program. This is a key detail because prosecutors have suggested that this is the reason no data was found reflecting the text message that Williams said he received from Bob McDonnell in December 2012 with a Rolex photo.

Next on the stand was William Long, who works for AT&T. He confirmed that Jonnie Williams and his wife, Celeste, were customers of his company, which turned over their phone records in response to a federal subpoena in February 2013. He said AT&T keeps records of phone calls for seven years. Data recording — which includes text messages information — is kept for four to seven years. But the content of messages is retained for only seven days.

During cross examination by McDonnell’s attorney Elizabeth Jochum, both phone experts agreed that individual phone users decide whether to send an ordinary text or an iMessage. Sometimes, they added, the two types of messages are intermingled.

Floyd also agreed that their total record of text messages may not include or capture all the communications between two users. (1,200 text messages were exchanged between Maureen McDonnell and Jonnie Williams, but that record does not include iMessages sent between them and therefore underestimates the frequency of their communication)

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Now on the stand is George Floyd, a custodian of records for Verizon Wireless.

Floyd is expected to explain the technical nuances of one of the case’s most high-profile disputes: Whether former governor Bob McDonnell himself, in December 2012, texted a picture to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. showing McDonnell flashing a Rolex watch.

Williams testified that the picture — which jurors saw — came directly from the former governor. But phone records show no corresponding text message. Williams, however, claimed there exists some record of the message.

We’ll be curious to hear whether Floyd can explain why that might be.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

As they did before the lunch break with other bank officials, defense attorneys pressed a Heritage Bank commercial loan officer on why Gov. Robert F. McDonnell might not have been required to report loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. on a personal financial statement.

The rationale is nuanced. Williams gave $50,000 to the governor’s wife, and an additional $70,000, in two separate payments, to a real estate company — MoBo Real Estate Partners LLC — that the governor owned with his sister. Prosecutors contend that McDonnell should have listed at least some of those on a personal financial statement filed with Heritage Bank, particularly in the section that asks for disclosure of debts to partnerships, proprietorships, joint ventures or other liabilities.

But under cross examination from defense attorney Daniel Small, Heritage Bank executive Jeffrey Creekmore testified that a loan to a spouse need not be listed on a personal financial statement. That would exempt the $50,000 Williams gave to Maureen McDonnell. Creekmore also testified that he understood an LLC — or limited liability company — was not the same as a proprietorship, partnership or joint venture.

Would that mean the $70,000 to MoBo also need not be disclosed?

It’s a question jurors will probably have to answer. Creekmore testified that if a loan to the company was guaranteed by an individual, that loan would have to be disclosed in a section of the personal financial statement called “contingent liabilities.” He said it was his “understanding” that a personal guarantee had to be a written document — an important point since Williams’s loans to MoBo were virtually undocumented.

Small tried to press the point, asking that if a loan was given to a company — and there was no written record of a personal guarantee — would it have to be disclosed on the personal financial statement? Prosecutors objected, and U.S. District Judge James Spencer intervened.

“It’s been asked and answered five times!” he exclaimed.

“Not on this witness, your honor,” Small responded.

“Let’s go on to something else,” the judge said.

Later, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer returned to the matter, noting that the “contingent liabilities” section asks, “Are you indirectly liable for obligations to others?” Jurors could interpret that question as an indication that the governor is indeed required to report the $70,000 to MoBo.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

After a lunch break, court has resumed with another bank official taking the stand. He is Jeffrey Creekmore, who works as a loan officer at Heritage Bank in Chesapeake, Va.

Creekmore offered only brief testimony on direct examination. He appears to have been called to confirm facts contained on a personal financial statement filed by former Gov. Bob McDonnell to Townebank. Those facts form the basis of McDonnell’s alleged bank fraud.

Though the form was submitted to Townebank, it originated with Heritage Bank. A Townebank official testified earlier that the bank accepts personal financial statements submitted to other banks.

Creekmore said McDonnell filed the statement to his bank because the former governor is one of 10 law partners of the firm Huff, Poole and Mahoney that had formed a partnership called Racehorse Properties. They used the entity to buy the building in which the law office is housed. Because the entity refinanced its loan and took out a line of credit, each partner had to file separate personal financial statements.

Creekmore confirmed that the statement, seen by jurors earlier in the Townebank filing discussion, contains no reference to loans from Jonnie Williams.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

In their cross examination of Pentagon Federal Credit Union official Nanette Bolt, the McDonnell’s defense attorney made the point that many documents are often modified or corrected in a drawn-out loan process.

With a final chance to question his own witness, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry attempted to dismantle that reasoning and emphasize the gravity of the omission on the loan application detailing what Jonnie R. Williams Sr. had given the former governor and his wife.

“Before you could order appraisals, before you could go through that process, did you have to get the loan application from them?” Dry asked.

“Yes,” Bolt responded.

“So, that was like a necessary first step, right?” he continued.

“Yes,” Bolt said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

During the cross examination of a Pentagon Federal Credit Union official, Maureen McDonnell’s defense attorney William Burck attempted to show it was his client’s husband — rather than the former first lady — who handled the loan application at the center of their financial fraud charges.

Burck asked the officer, Nanette Bolt, specifically about a Jan. 23, 2013, phone call in which she spoke to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, the first lady and the governor’s sister. Bolt testified earlier that she remembered both governor and sister participating in the call, but she needed to be reminded that Maureen McDonnell was part of the conversation as well.

Was it because Maureen McDonnell was not an active participant in the conversation, Burck asked?

“If she was there, she didn’t speak much,” Bolt said.

Bolt later said she could recall few specific conversations with the first lady about the loan application.

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